Magnificent 2300-Year-Old Scythian Woman’s Boot Discovered in the Altai Mountains


Some speculate that the boot probably belonged to a high-ranking woman who did not have to walk much, resulting in its pristine condition.

Source: State Hermitage Museum: Southern Siberia/Pazyryk

Tired of fast fashion, planned obsolescence and cheap materials? Well, here is a stylish women’s boot that was truly built to last. Like, for 2300 years.

Rarely do archaeologists come across age-old remnants that have survived thousands of years in near-perfect condition. One such occasion occurred in 1948, when a women’s boot, featuring intricately bedazzled patterns, was found in Siberia’s Altai mountains alongside other important discoveries – including jewelry, food, and weapons. This astonishing shoe is believed to be 2,300 years old and features an elaborate sole made up of soft red leather as well as a geometric design sewn with pyrite crystals and black beads.

Source: State Hermitage Museum: Southern Siberia/Pazyryk

The artifacts (and their mummified owners) have been well preserved thanks to permafrost and the painstaking attention the Scythians paid to their dead.

As curators at the British Museum wrote in advance of the 2017 exhibition Scythians: Warriors of Ancient Siberia:

Nomads do not leave many traces, but when the Scythians buried their dead they took care to equip the corpse with the essentials they thought they needed for the perpetual rides of the afterlife. They usually dug a deep hole and built a wooden structure at the bottom. For important people these resembled log cabins that were lined and floored with dark felt – the roofs were covered with layers of larch, birch bark and moss. Within the tomb chamber, the body was placed in a log trunk coffin, accompanied by some of their prized possessions and other objects. Outside the tomb chamber but still inside the grave shaft, they placed slaughtered horses, facing east.

Credit: Archive of the Institute of Archaeology of the Russian Academy of Sciences, St Petersburg

The exquisite beading on the red cloth-wrapped leather bootie, which is now part of the State Hermitage Museum‘s collection, sparked a great deal of curiosity and speculation online.

Some theorists propose the boot was made exclusively for burial, which would account for the nearly intact state of the sole. Others think it might have belonged to a high-ranking woman who wouldn’t have walked much. Or else, Scythians spent so much time on horseback, their shoe leather was spared…

According to historians, Scythians often socialized in front of a fire while sitting on their knees, so the detailing on the bottom of the shoes would be visible to others, and thus an important aspect of a person’s attire.

Source: State Hermitage Museum: Southern Siberia/Pazyryk

Ancient Scythians were a nomadic people who traversed the Eurasian continent. The shoe’s location in the Altai Mountains is one of the Scythian’s major burial mounds, where many other objects and clothing were discovered near the boot.

Like with other ancient civilizations, it was customary for these nomads to bury their dead with essentials to help them travel to the afterlife.

Approximate extent of Scythia, 1st century BCE. (Photo: Dbachmann via Wikimedia Commons [CC BY-SA 3.0])

Scythians typically constructed wooden cabin-like structures deep in the ground to house their dead, where each body was placed inside a log coffin filled with their possessions.

This scrupulous preparation together with the permafrost of the Altai Mountains were what preserved the boot for centuries.

Log coffin from burial mound at Pazyryk, 1929. Archive of the Institute for the History of Material Culture, St Petersburg.

A Scythian and his horse were inseparable, even after death. Along with their prized possessions and other objects, their horses were buried together with them, too. The horse was an essential part of Scythian life and was the most important and multipurpose animal used by the nomads. They initially reared large herds of horses mainly for their milk and hides, but then became one of the first people to harness the horse as a mount. This was a huge success for the Scythians as it meant they could expand their horizons by moving up to speeds of 30–40 miles an hour, pushing past environmental boundaries that immobilised those travelling by foot.

Then, they went on to invent the earliest form of a saddle, arguably one of their biggest contributions to human civilisation. Not surprisingly, their cavalry soon became the driving force behind their military might.

Reconstruction of horse trappings from Scythian royal burials in the Pazyryk-Altai area, 5th century BC. Source

And the elaborate trappings their horses were buried with are definitely on par with the beauty of their burial clothes, including the magnificient woman’s boot hereby presented.

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

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