In 400 BC, in Corneto, modern day Italy, a tomb was being filled. The walls were decorated with frescoes of banquet scenes, dancers, and musicians. It contained a number of funerary objects, including vases, jewelry, and bronze objects. For over two millennia, it lay in silence.
When it was finally opened in 1842, a surprising find was made among the artifacts – what appear to be four bronze horseshoes. If they were horseshoes, they would have been the oldest horse shoes in the world, an incredible archeologic find. There wouldn’t be verified proof of horse shoes for another 400 years, which would have made the Etruscans incredibly advanced with their horse care.
In 1892, the American Journal of Archeology published an article claiming this fact, and basically everyone just accepted this as fact ever since.
Now, before anyone gets too excited about this discovery (so go back in time over 150 years ago) horse people should take a look at these shoes. I’m pretty sure whoever decided these were horse shoes is the same kind of person who calls the humane society when they see a horse laying down or with a fly mask on. These seems more like proof those kinds of people have always existed.
But, let’s take a closer look at these things.
The design of this “horseshoe” would have only covered about half the hoof, been covered in many small spikes, and attached both with leather cords and a single iron spike directly through the hoof. Despite this going directly through the part of the hoof with feeling, It did not occur to anyone for a long time that this would not only be super painful, but it would render the horse completely lame. But somehow, someone looked at what would definitely be a torture device if used in this manner, and said, “Yup, that’s a horseshoe, we love horses that can’t walk.”
Luckily someone else, much wiser, or possibly had seen a horse before, and not just heard a description of a picture of a horse, drawn by someone who has never seen a horse, took another look at these artifacts.
In a much more logically turn, it is now believed that these artifacts are actually the pieces of a bit. The holes were for the reins and bridle, the small spikes were an elaborate design, and where the “single spike” would have gone, is actually the mouthpiece of the bit. The Etruscans were a civilization known for their metalworking, so it makes sense that they would create elaborate tack to adorn their horses. And, while we can debate if this bit was appropriate for the horse or not (did it need a bit that strong??), it was definitely much less painful than “iron rod through the hoof” theory.
In the 3rd century, the Etruscans were absorbed into the Roman Empire. If the Etruscans had held the technology of horse shoes, they did not share it with the Romans, leading me to further believe these artifacts were not intended for the hoof. Horseshoes were still not invented, and continued to not be invented for another few centuries.
Bizarrely enough, the theory of the Etruscan horseshoes is still widely spread in the “history of horseshoeing” community. It came up multiple times while I was researching, and very few question it. But as a horseperson, even the first time I read about it, I thought “that’s the weirdest horseshoe I’ve ever seen, and this makes no sense,”
That’s why I’m taking a stand right now – The Etruscan Horseshoes, despite their now unfortunate name, were not horseshoes. NOT HORSESHOES!!
I encourage you to stand with me, and stop the spread of this misinformation. You know, if it ever comes up in your day to day life. Thank you.