World news in brief: From Iron Age child’s shoe to New Indo-European language

Iron Age child’s shoe

Excavations in a prehistoric salt mine in Dürrnberg, Austria, have uncovered a well-preserved shoe – roughly a UK child’s size 12.5 – dated to the 2nd century BC. The discovery was made by the German Mining Museum Bochum, who have been carrying out research into the earliest mining activities in the region for decades. Several other leather shoes (including children’s sizes) have already been discovered in the Dürrnberg area, but this is the first example of a complete child’s shoe, providing important evidence for the presence of children underground in the Iron Age mine. The shoe is so well preserved that we can even see the remains of laces made of flax or linen, which gives an idea of how shoes like this were fastened. Other organic remains were also found nearby, including part of a wooden shovel, and the remains of a fur garment, possibly a hood.

Early coal use in China

The Bronze Age site of Jirentaigoukou in north-west China has produced the earliest known evidence of the systematic exploitation of coal. The use of coal as fuel dates back several millennia but, until now, evidence of deliberate, systematic exploitation was unknown before c.2,500 years ago. However, the new material from Jirentaigoukou dates to c.3,600 years ago, around 1,000 years earlier. Excavations between 2015 and 2020 revealed that coal was present all over the site: in almost every home, in storage pits and fireplaces, in areas used for metallurgical activities, and near tool caches; clearly, it was being used for all sorts of things. It has been suggested that the shift to coal may have been a result of changing climatic conditions that led to a decline in the availability of wood fuel. Coal has been known to ignite spontaneously in hot weather – perhaps the occupants of Jirentaigoukou saw its potential and decided to try something new, seemingly well before any of their neighbours. The research has been published in Science Advances (

New Indo-European language

A previously unknown Indo-European language has been identified on a cuneiform tablet recently discovered at Boğazköy-Hattuša in Turkey. Excavations, currently under the umbrella of the German Archaeological Institute and led by Professor Andreas Schachner, over the last century at the UNESCO World Heritage Site, which was once the capital of the Bronze Age Hittite Empire, have uncovered almost 30,000 clay cuneiform tablets. They are mostly written in Hittite, but one found this year – a Hittite ritual text – featured a recitation in a new language. The team’s epigraphist, Professor Daniel Schwemer of Würzburg University (Germany) reports that the Hittite text refers to the phrase in question as ‘the language of the land of Kalašma’, an area in northern Anatolia, on the north-western border of the Hittite Empire. The new language cannot be understood at the moment, but specialised linguist Professor Elisabeth Rieken, Marbug University, has confirmed that it most probably belongs to the Anatolian-Indo-European linguistic family and appears to share some features with other ancient Anatolian languages like Luwian.

Text: Amy Brunskill / Image: © RUB/DBM, Hans-Joerg Lauffer [photographer]