When I talk to people about recreating clothes and architecture in Second Life, I often use the example of shoes to illustrate a point. I liked to draw when I was younger, but hands and feet were always a bit problematic for me. This was often fixed by a illustrating a stray tuft of grass, or a strategically positioned object. I got really expert at drawing people with their hands in their pockets. But in Second Life, you can’t really do that. You have to commit to an interpretation. I like this aspect of recreating in Second Life because you have to decide on your interpretation and back it up with as much as you can glean from the archaeological record. I can also be a bit of a functionalist, so I think of things like people climbing ladders, hopping over gaps between houses, and sitting on scratchy woven mats when trying to imagine what people wore in the past. So, are the people living in your archaeological imagination wearing shoes?
There are some nice examples of preserved shoes in various contexts–the pointy medieval shoes found in bogs and waterlogged sites in England, the nice woven reed shoes found in caves in the Southwest, and in the Mediterranean and the Middle East, people were often kind enough to depict shoes in their art and artifacts. Erik Trinkaus studies early shoes based on bone structure, and Kris has a nice article about him and other archaeological shoes on About.com.
In her autobiography Dolly Parton (my admiration of her knows no bounds) tells a story about growing up in Tennessee–her mother would send all of the kids out to scour the yard after the last of the snow melted away to pick up all of the things that might have fallen and gotten lost during the wintertime. They picked up all the sharp bits of metal and debris and only then were they allowed to take off their shoes and go barefoot for the summer. Not exactly ethnographic analogy, but I always think of it when I see deposits of chipped obsidian that were swept off a surface and into a midden.
More to the point, shoes have been on my mind as we have had an incredible deluge here in the Bay Area, the likes of which we have not seen since my first year here in 2005/2006, and nobody seemed ready for it. All of the homeless folks around my neighborhood are walking around without shoes on. I have become accustomed to seeing homeless people constantly, as one does in the Bay Area, but this rain has brought them into high relief once again. Walking around the streets of downtown Oakland in the cold rain without shoes.
Time for class.