Exquisite 2300-Year-Old Scythian Woman’s Boot Preserved in the Frozen Ground of the Altai Mountains

Shoes and boots, show where your feet have gone. —Guy Sebeus, 10 New Scythian Tales 

In the age of fast fashion, when planned obsolescence, cheap materials, and shoddy construction have become the norm, how startling to encounter a stylish women’s boot that’s truly built to last…

…like, for 2300 years.

It helps to have landed in a Scythian burial mound in Siberia’s Altai Mountains, where the above boot was discovered along with a number of nomadic afterlife essentials—jewelry, food, weapons, and clothing.

These artifacts (and their mummified owners) were 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.

18th-century watercolor illustration of a Scythian burial mound. Archive of the Institute of Archaeology of the Russian Academy of Sciences, St Petersburg

The red cloth-wrapped leather bootie, now part of the State Hermitage Museum‘s collection, is a stunner, trimmed in tin, pyrite crystals, gold foil and glass beads secured with sinew. Fanciful shapes—ducklings, maybe?—decorate the seams. But the true mindblower is the remarkable condition of its sole.

Speculation is rampant on Reddit, as to this bottom layer’s pristine condition:

Maybe the boot belonged to a high-ranking woman who wouldn’t have walked much…

Or Scythians spent so much time on horseback, their shoe leather was spared…

Or perhaps it’s a high quality funeral garment, reserved for exclusively post-mortem use…

The British Museum curators’ explanation is that Scythians seated themselves on the ground around a communal fire, subjecting their soles to their neighbors’ scrutiny.

Become better acquainted with Scythian boots by making a pair, as ancient Persian empire reenactor Dan D’Silva did, documenting the process in a 3-part series on his blog. How you bedazzle the soles is up to you.

via ArtifactsHub

Related Content:

Stylish 2,000-Year-Old Roman Shoe Found in a Well

The Ancient Egyptians Wore Fashionable Striped Socks, New Pioneering Imaging Technology Imaging Reveals

The Ancient Romans First Committed the Sartorial Crime of Wearing Socks with Sandals, Archaeological Evidence Suggests

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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Comments (30)
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  • Jean Pacheco Ravinski says:

    Those boots were not made for walking otherwise they would not have made the decorative beadwork on the soles; soul boots, that’s what they were!

  • Lisa Hammond-Koskey says:

    I totally agree with you! Meant to walk the spirit way.😃

  • Don Lee says:

    Those boots weren’t made for walkin’
    And that ain’t what they did
    And one of those days those boots went
    in your grave when you were dead!

  • Meetmoi says:

    Bahahah @Don Lee

  • Dan Hain says:

    All you who have commented that the boots weren’t for walking didn’t watch the video. He even said they were for show for when you sat they bottoms would show.

  • Rod Rongstad says:

    Yes they are extra decorative , buy my immediate reaction to the souls is that they were for ice traction. It’s a little hard to tell but it looks like they are tiny squares of shell, or stone or bone but wouldn’t know how they would be attached.

  • Kathleen Mortenson says:

    These are so extraordinarily finished given the primitive methods to create the fine bead and metalwork, the “thread” and supple leather. The seaming is even beautiful in itself. Its design shows sophisticated creativity using the delicately crafted components. Compare this bootie with an outlandishly priced example of flimsy women’s shoes today. The side by side would show a work art next to a machine stitched, mass produced sole, spindly heel and laughably narrow strips of leather to hold the shoe to a foot. I wonder if most women would recognize the worth of the red shoe vs a famous name brand made today?

  • Gwyneth Noree says:

    I wonder about whoever made these. Imagine creating something which people admire after several thousand years!

  • Sonia WALKER says:

    Thank you for a wonderful informative talk, about a little known subject.
    I have read and much value Barry Cunliffe’s Prehistoric Europe

  • Henrietta says:

    Just looking at the boot how can she have climb the rocks to find food or did she have servants to find food??

  • Laura Average says:

    Hahahaha love it :)

  • David Bennett says:

    I think the clue is in the felt floor of the funerary vault, most likely because their homes had felt floors. Felt flooring is ideal for nomadic use but it has certain restrictions. One cannot walk in and out of doors wearing the same footwear without ruining the felt in short order. Bare feet on felt will leave it smelling like a rancid gym sock in surprisingly little time. Smooth leather on felt can have dangerously little traction. No doubt boots of this level of sophistication would have been used only on quite special occasions but I think they would have been used, admired and enjoyed.

  • Eileen Hathaway says:

    Are they going to give it back to the woman they took it from? I love learning but lately I have been looking into cremation for this very reason. We have dug up thousands of bodies but don’t (read rarely) always put them back as they were, and never with respect. I can understand gold and that sort of thing being taken because of grave robbing, but when you strip the clothes off and autopsy the body and then leave it in a warehouse because of whatever reason I start to think of lack of respect to the very person who gave you a paycheck. From the diggers to the museum, you OWE this person. I know it is a very unpopular opinion and ALL the arguments because I love the past too and love learning about it. I have just been having a hard time on the respect issue. Everyone of these people would be horrified to learn of there fate.

  • Julie says:

    Exactly what I thought. When I first saw them, the little rectangles on the soles reminded me of cleats.

  • ClickBait says:

    Why is this even an article in 2020??? Click BAIT!!!!!!!!!! I found a Tweet from 2017 on these boots.. this tard that wrote the article needs to learn how to do research.

  • Isantis says:

    Thank you for bringing up this very important point Eileen. I think often in our search for knowledge we forget to be human. Especially when the people we study have been dead for a very long time. I don’t know if this woman will be re-buried (I doubt it) but I appreciate your reminder that all persons and cultures need to be treated with respect, dead or alive.

  • Lee says:

    Canada’s northern Cree and Dene First Nations, still today, wear beautifully beaded moosehide mocassins in camp or inside, but pull on rubber overshoes for walking where the ground is wet or muddy. Formerly they had watertight (greased or whatever) outer coverings. Perhaps Sythians had similar shoe/boot coverings. But when the weather is much below freezing, they need no such covering because everything is frozen and dry.

  • Alison Donald says:

    These peoples rode everywhere. The decorative soles were to be seen when mounted.

  • jmgeissmann says:

    Reflecting upon experiences in the present day horse riding nomadic traditions in frozen environments of peoples living today in Mongolia I picture this woman in her prestigious footwear, legs crossed, on felted mats within her abode warmed by a dried dung fire or in the Spring capably riding the fastest and best with these labors of honor covering her feet … that never touched ground even when laid to rest in her afterlife….now disturbed. Riders in Mongolia and Afghanistan are honored still with gifts of decorative leather and metal belts or silk chapans. We’ve seen the beauty of her adornment and mused over the photos. My feelings were first to get to the Hermitage to see them, however, after reading of her burial site it seemed more important to return her and all that accompanied her to her grave. If the perms frost is melting and her grave is not as intended a ethical question lingers.

  • Jamie says:

    I love the lyrics you changed!

  • Josh whiteraven says:

    Glass seed beads, used for decoration,
    from thousands of years ago? OK, right,🧐🤔🤣🤣🤣🤣

  • Anne says:

    I have felt the same way for a long time. The owner of the boots would be appalled at being dug up, mauled over during the strip search for valuables, unceremoniously warehoused and her body and grave goods brought out on occasion to be gawked at. She would have been horrified at the disrespect to her body for and religious beliefs.

  • LouEllyn Green says:

    Kewl your humor and wit are!

  • Dee Morgan says:

    This boot is constructed exactly as Capezio ballet shoes are constructed today. It is probably a good conclusion this is a dancing shoe for a floored setting. The Ancient Proto Greek Scythians might have had a similar stage setting like the Ancient Greeks had later…kind of like a revolving gazebo. Such a device might have required the grooved features on the bottom of the shoe to preserve balance.

    A look at the bottom of a modern ballet shoe in comparison with this ancient one would probably be a worthwhile moment.

  • Dee Morgan says:

    This boot is constructed exactly as Capezio ballet shoes are constructed today. It is probably a good conclusion this is a dancing shoe for a floored setting. The Ancient Proto Greek Scythians might have had a similar stage setting like the Ancient Greeks had later…kind of like a revolving gazebo. Such a device might have required the grooved features on the bottom of the shoe to preserve balance.

    A look at the bottom of a modern ballet shoe in comparison with this ancient one would probably be a worthwhile time.


    It was a great talk. He was very educated. Happy that I had to change to listen to him. V. Karadag

  • Camille Feinberg says:

    I suggest the shoes were re-soled for the afterlife journey. The rest of the shoe looks older in these photos.

  • Sophia says:

    Exactly. Can you imagine… “ hey! You guys!!…,wait a minnit, I think one of my little shell square came off oh man my moms gonna kill me!”

  • Vera Melnyk says:

    Very interesting lecture. Can you please tell me the name of the Lecturer. I would like to purchase his book.
    Thank you!

  • Scott says:

    Diamonds on the soles of her shoes, I know a song about that lol

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