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Discovery changes history of footwear design

Shoes hidden in Egypt two millennia ago have revealed an insight into modern construction techniques.

Image © FM Giani CEFB

A new study of shoes discovered in an ancient Egyptian temple in 2004 has amazed archaeologists, because the footwear includes a design feature thought to have been invented several hundred years later.

Seven shoes – including two pairs of children’s footwear – were discovered concealed in a jar which had been placed into a cavity between two mud brick walls in a temple in Luxor, the site of the ancient city of Thebes.

The children’s shoes had been tied together with palm fibre string and then pushed into an adult shoe. A pair of adult’s footwear was found alongside them. There is still conjecture as to why the shoes, which would have been unusual for the era, probably quite expensive and likely to have been foreign-made, were left in the temple just over 2,000 years ago when Egypt was ruled by a Greek dynasty. The date of the shoes is based on the age of the jar in which they were found, in addition to the stratigraphy (layering of the surrounding sediments) in the area. It may also be possible in the future to carbon date the footwear to confirm its age.

Older than first thought

Image © FM Giani CEFB

One of the leather shoes discovered in an ancient Egyptian building

Most Egyptians would normally have worn sandals at the time the shoes were concealed. However, the single shoe which concealed the children’s footwear was made with a ‘rand’ – a folded leather strip between the sole and the upper to reinforce the stitching – a structural device that historians previously thought had first been used in Medieval Europe some 500 years later.

The shoes were in pristine condition and still supple upon discovery, according to the Journal of the American Research Centre in Egypt. Unfortunately, the shoes then became brittle and extremely fragile.
Analysis of the footwear has also revealed an insight into their owner’s health. A semi-circular protruding area found on the single adult shoe may have been caused by a bunion, while on the pair of adult shoes, the left shoe had more patches and signs of repair than the right. This shoe was exposed to unequal pressure, suggesting that the wearer walked with a limp.

The wear and tear – and repair work carried out – indicated that the owners valued the shoes as highly prized commodities, making the reason why they were left in the temple even more of a mystery. Speculation has suggested that some kind of unrest affecting the local population might have caused the owners to leave their valuable shoes behind and flee.

Publishing Data

This article was originally published on page 40 of the May 2013 issue of SATRA Bulletin.

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