Ice skates made from bone are common archaeological finds from the Viking age. One of the better known examples is the pair found at Birka which probably date from the 9th century. A sketch of one skate in the pair is shown to the left.
The bones were tied to the bottom of the shoes using leather thongs. The holes for the thong are in the sides of the skates at the front and back. The front of the skate (to the left in the sketch) has been shaped into a wedge to help the skate to pass over irregularities on the surface of the ice.
Typically, the metatarsal bones of horses or cattle were used. In people, the five metatarsal bones are the foot bones. In horses, which essentially walk on their toes, only the third metatarsal bone develops fully, resulting in a long, rugged bone.
Let’s skate together! Skating on bones in the past and today
by Hans Christian Küchelmann and Petar Zidarov
Bone ice skate with a leather boot