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

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.

Note: An ear­li­er ver­sion of this post appeared on our site in 2020.

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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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