The bone skates from Lincoln Castle

Oxbow’s new book about Lincoln Castle, Lincoln Castle Revealed: The Story of a Norman Powerhouse and its Anglo-Saxon Precursor describes two bone skate fragments found during the excavation. The authors date them to before the Norman Conquest and include them in the catalog of artifacts under “Recreation”—where they are the only entries. Both are made from cattle metatarsi (215).

Find 22/1524 is 130 mm long and features roughening of the “topside”, where the foot would rest, and an axial hole in the proximal end, under the skater’s heel (215). This feature is characteristic of skates from Great Britain (Thurber 2020, 112).

The other skate, find 22/1536, is only 89 mm long. It is described as having the “underside missing, proximal end sawn, topside polished from use” (215). It sounds like this is one of the unusual skates where the palmar side was used as the gliding surface. Usually the dorsal side glides on the ice. The missing “underside” makes me wonder if this skate was part of a pair of split bones, which would be highly unusual for Great Britain! Those skates, which have the top half of the bone removed to create a nice footrest, are generally only found in Scandinavia (Thurber 2020, 106).

These skates join five others found in Lincoln (Thurber 2020, 110). They unique in being made from cattle metatarsi; the others are three cattle metacarpi, a horse metacarpus, and a possible cattle radius, according to my database.

The book also mentions “an unfinished piece” found with the two fragments, which led the authors to propose “these were being turned out of a workshop nearby” (32).


B. A. Thurber. 2020. Skates Made of Bone: A History. Jefferson, NC: McFarland.

Jonathan Clark, Justin Garner-Lahire, Cecily Spall, and Nicola Toop. Lincoln Castle Revealed: The Story of a Norman Powerhouse and its Anglo-Saxon Precursor. Oxford: Oxbow Books.