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Bunions and broken bones: medieval shoes show price Homo Sapiens fashion victims willing to pay

x-ray of bunions.

Would you like bunions with that?   |  Photo: Mshirk

Believe it or not, Medieval shoes tell us something important about modern civilization. The hyper-gregarious Homo Sapiens might be able to walk on the moon, but ultimately a large proportion of the species just want to climb the social ladder. And the smarter, higher order sapiens might paradoxically be willing to pay the most stupid price.

In this case, being “progressive” in the 14th Century meant wearing pointy shoes that left 4 out of 10 people buried at the friary with bent and sometimes broken bones. Bunions make it harder to balance so they increase the risk of falls.  The undeniable benefits of scoring social fashion points were apparently worth spending decades distorting foot bones. Before you dismiss this as a teenage girly thing, ponder that two thirds of the victims were men.

The social competition to have the pointiest shoes became so dangerous that in 1463 King Edward IV passed a law declaring toe-points had to be 2 inches or less within London.

Ancient Near Eastern copper statuette of an unknown horned deity with corresponding pointy shoes (proto-Elamite 3000-2800 B.C.)

Pointy shoes in a statue from 3,000 BC.   | Camocon

The pointy shoe fashion bubble has struck all over the world: Japan, China, Sweden, Turkey and even in the 20th Century. The horned statue to the left is from the near East circa 3000 BC.

In the battle of stupid fashion trends the best weapon is free speech. If the King makes pointy shoes an employment criterion, even smart men who know the price will still pay it to get the girls and the goodies for their offspring. It’s a cold cost-benefit calculation, not a religion.

It’s quickly cured if the court jester can mock the King. Once the price is named out loud the race is over, and all the contestants lose.

Medieval shoe trend brought ‘plague’ of bunions to Britain

Suffering for fashion is nothing new. Researchers in Britain have unearthed new evidence that stylish pointed shoes caused a “plague” of bunions in the late medieval period.

Investigators from the University of Cambridge analyzed 177 skeletons from cemeteries in and around the city of Cambridge.

Researchers inspected foot bones for the bump by the big toe that is the hallmark of hallux valgus, known to millions of sufferers as bunions.

They found that those buried in the town center, particularly in plots for wealthier citizens and clergy, were much more likely to have had bunions.

Only 3% of the rural cemetery showed signs of bunions, 10% of the parish graveyard, 23% of those on the hospital site and 43% of those at the friary.

While just 6% of individuals buried between the 11th and 13th centuries had evidence of bunions, 27% of those from the 14th and 15th centuries were hobbled by the affliction.

In the 13th and 14th centuries, it was increasingly common for those in clerical orders in Britain to wear stylish clothes — a cause for concern among high-ranking church officials, Mitchell noted.

Across late medieval society, the pointiness of shoes became so extreme that in 1463 King Edward IV passed a law limiting toe-point length to less than 2 inches within London.

The majority of remains with signs of bunions in the study, 20 of 31, were male.

Lead author Jenna Dittmar, who conducted the work while at Cambridge, also found that skeletal remains with hallux valgus were more likely to show signs of fractures that usually result from a fall.

“Modern clinical research on patients with hallux valgus has shown that the deformity makes it harder to balance, and increases the risk of falls in older people,” Dittmar said in the release. “This would explain the higher number of healed broken bones we found in medieval skeletons with this condition.”

The paper appears in the June 10 issue of the International Journal of Paleopathology.

9.5 out of 10 based on 25 ratings

36 comments to Bunions and broken bones: medieval shoes show price Homo Sapiens fashion victims willing to pay

  • #
    Broadie

    There was another fashion amongst the Supreme Rulers and that was to embalm their servants, soldiers, even their oxen, cats and dogs in order to accompany them into the afterlife.

    We are seeing much the same from our current crop of super rich and powerful only they are busy with genetic experiments and adjustments to the environment to insure they will be able to live forever in a world of their own creation.

    No need to build pyramids and put your organs into a pot now that technology has advanced to a new level.

    70

    • #
      Deano

      About 25 years ago there was a nutter touring Australia to promote cryogenic freezing of freshly dead bodies so that they may be revived at a future date when the technology allowed. He looked like that scientist from ‘Independence Day’ in the secret underground lab that “Wasn’t allowed out very often”. The economy option just covered your head being frozen while the full service meant your whole body would be kept in the liquid nitrogen tank.

      I think it was probably one of those Mars One type schemes designed to separate fools from their money.

      10

      • #
        PeterS

        That’s been going on for decades under different companies, and it’s a scam.

        00

      • #
        Lawrie

        Walt Disney had his head frozen. Gary Larsen in his “Far Side” comic had the cleaning lady accidentally pulling out the wrong power cord (the one powering the “fridge”) on her Friday afternoon shift.

        10

  • #
    Peter C

    I have thought for a long time that shoes might be the cause of hallux valgus and bunions.
    This article seems to confirm it. High heels are probably much worse. The foot is forced forward into the pointy part of the shoe, squeezing the toes together and especially pushing the big toe toward the other toes.

    A bunion is the bony hypertrophy on the medial side of the big toe.
    Hallux Vulgus means angulation of the big toe toward the lateral (outer) side of the foot.

    40

    • #
      Klem

      When I met my wife at age 20 she had a bunyion at the base of the big toe. She never wore high heels, she always wore running shoes. She didn’t wear anything that other young women wore at the time, but she had this bunyion anyway.

      Then I met her mother, she had the same bunyion at the same location, and being the wife of an Anglican minister she didn’t wear anything but the most sensible shoes.

      I’m pretty sure there is a strong genetic component associated with this bunyion thing.

      80

      • #
        Peter C

        I agree Klem.

        I will modify my statement above:
        I have thought for a long time that shoes might be a significant cause of hallux valgus and bunions.

        I think Bunyion might be a medieval spelling.

        40

      • #
        Lawrie

        Both my mother and I had bunions on the right foot only. It was not enough to keep me out of the Army but I have a collection of perfectly usable left work boots. The right boots all had come apart at the bunion. It has never caused discomfort.

        10

    • #
      Ozwitch

      Modern hard surfaces have a lot to do with foot problems. We evolved walking on uneven, softer and yielding earth. Now we walk on brick and concrete pavements which have no give and no variability. We wear shoes with foam and gel etc but all this does is give the illusion our feet are handling it – the pressure on ankles, knees and hips eventually ensures bones in the leg will deform. Shortened calf muscles and weak buttocks etc also contribute.

      20

  • #
    Flok

    Winklepickers

    First time I heard this (word) few years back from a Pome mate, I laughed for days, this beings a great reflection. Thanks Jo !

    https://shoeiq.com/winklepickers/

    Some people wear shoes despite pain and some people read news and listen to politics.

    40

  • #
    MrGrimNasty

    ‘Winklepickers’. Never went out of fashion!

    20

  • #
    MrGrimNasty

    And foot binding in China was even more extreme.

    71

  • #
    Serge Wright

    Those shoes look like they might come in handy to remove disruptive CC activists 😉

    30

  • #
    DevonshireDozer

    My late dad was a boot & shoe repairer. I remember him remarking upon certain fashions in the 50s & 60s when he was grateful for the stiletto & winklepicker fashion. It probably paid for school uniforms worn by me & my sister. Drilling out & replacing the steel heel post took quite some skill. Both forms of footwear were prohibited in our house.

    He also reckoned that he could predict much about someones personality from their tread & the wear patterns on their shoes. There’s another ‘ology waiting to be ‘monetised’.

    40

  • #
    Environment Sceptic

    All it probably means is that in general, people are now as it was then, suggestible. Brown hears that Jones has a cool shoe, and then hears Smith also had a similar same cool shoe, and so the new cool shoe is assimilated by Brown and further into contemporary use by a pattern which creates a herd immunity against differing shoes to the ones Brown has been vaccinated against, …. even if they are more practical or comfortable.

    It has always been difficult to be sceptical about the mesmerizing environment shoe choices that are faced by a shoe user.

    Notes and eratta:
    https://en.wikipedia.org › wiki › Cobbler
    Occupations[edit] · Cobbler, a person who repairs, and sometimes makes, shoes · Cobbler, a person who illegally forges passports and other documents

    40

    • #
      Annie

      Also, Vietnamese Cobbler, UK name for what seems to be known as ‘Basa’ (fish) here in Australia.

      20

  • #
    David Maddison

    An even worse “fashion trend” today, and far more dangerous, is the heavy promotion by the Left of transgenderism, especially among children.

    For the Leftist parent, nothing will make them more proud than having a transgender child, it’s like having an exotic pet.

    The biological consequences are extreme and permanent.

    Also, free speech cannot alter this trend in many jurisdictions because in places like Vicdanistan it’s been made illegal for professionals to suggest to transgender victims that they might in fact be of their birth gender.

    110

  • #
    Environment Sceptic

    [snip] … Surely it is pertinent that if someone sees or hears more than one person exhibiting a certain mode of thought, or a concept, then it is easiest to merely copy the shoe/thought/concept and make it fit at all costs and thus not have to suffer the uncomfortable process of making up ones own opinion/perception to a seen or heard/herd attire….yarda yarda..after a fashion.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/They're_a_Weird_Mob

    20

  • #
    tom0mason

    Just goes to show how social pressure can get people to dumb things.
    Fashion fads are just expensive nonsense.

    20

  • #
    Deano

    As a man, I have to admit stilettos DO look good at the end of a pair of toned legs. But super-models only need to wear them for a few hours while attending lavish parties at my mansion. They can wear joggers when visiting their husbands.

    40

  • #
    PeterS

    Social pressures work in many ways. For example, we have it on climate change with schools, MSM, big business and governments all harping about how we must reduce our emissions. It has to be one of the most strongest social pressures ever hoisted onto the public, pushing the biggest scam ever.

    70

  • #

    But them shoes looked so good with the Emperor’s New Clothes.

    30

  • #

    For future reference – Capitalise Genus

    Homo sapiens.

    10

  • #
    CHRIS

    Shoes in the Middle Ages were straight-lined, and did not consider the slight variance of left- and right- foot anatomy; no wonder people had foot problems. As for pointy-shoes, well….fashion, what is there to know????????????????

    00

  • #
    Chrism

    I am an orthopaedic surgeon and worked in the Northern territory and saw a number of indigenous people who had never in their lifetime worn a closed in shoe with severe metatarsus primus varus and hallux valgus – only wearing thongs
    imho it relates to the original prehensile nature of the foot as a climbing implement
    both the palm and the foot have fascial specialisations that potentially assist gripping tree branches : palmar fascia potentially tensed by palmaris longus
    and possibly plantaris originally running to tense the plantar fascia – possibly – both muscles are now mostly vistigial and not everyone has a palmaris longus – check – if not you are more evolved

    as an aside I remember Roger Mann visiting when I was in Hong Kong in the early 90’s
    we showed him a number of foot and leg coditions as potential teaching cases
    we had coughed up 100,000+ HK$ (25k AUD) to put him up in a 5* hotel and teach us each day for the week

    he resiled from commenting on each case until Prof Leung in frustration said “what do you do”?
    to which Mann replied ‘Bunions”
    … I’m writing my 3rd volume and the first two are over a thousand pages each, and I’ll probably write another ….

    hallux valgus is a genetic memory of a time in which our big toes could be used to hold on is my guess
    nothing to do with shoes, other than you can’t climb a tree wearing stillettos

    (and as a further aside female humans developed permanent sizeable breasts to mimic buttocks to encourage face-to-face copulation for social and perhaps sensory reasons (Naked Ape … the book, that one) … which relates to stillettos by making the buttocks more prominent so the male is enticed both in front and from behind

    20