Magnificent 2300-year-old Scythian women’s boot discovered in the Altai Mountains

Some speculate that the boot likely belonged to a high-ranking woman who didn\’t need to walk much, resulting in her impeccable condition.

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

Archaeologists rarely find A̳n̳c̳i̳e̳n̳t̳ remains that have survived thousands of years in near-perfect conditions. One such occasion occurred in 1948, when a women\’s boot, with intricately dazzling patterns, was found in the Altai Mountains of Siberia, alongside other important finds – including jewelry, food and weapons. This astonishing shoe is believed to be 2,300 years old and features an elaborate sole made of soft red leather, as well as a geometric design stitched with pyrite crystals and black beads.

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

As the British Museum curators wrote ahead of the 2017 exhibition Scythians: Warriors of Ancient Siberia:

The nomads don\’t leave much trace, but when the Scythians buried their dead, they were careful to outfit the corpse with the essentials they felt were necessary for the perpetual walks of the afterlife. They would usually dig a deep hole and build a wooden structure at the bottom. To important people, they looked like wooden huts lined and clad in dark felt – the roofs were covered with layers of larch, birch bark and moss. Inside the tomb chamber, the body was placed in a trunk-trunk coffin, accompanied by some of his valuables and other objects. Outside the tomb chamber, but still within the grave pit, they placed slaughtered horses, facing east.

The exquisite embroidery on the red fabric-wrapped leather bootie, which is now part of the collection of the State Hermitage Museum, has sparked much curiosity and speculation online.

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

According to historians, Scythians used to socialize in front of a fire sitting on their knees so that the details on the soles of their shoes were visible to others and therefore an important aspect of a person\’s attire.

The A̳n̳c̳i̳e̳n̳t̳ Scythians were a nomadic people who crossed the Eurasian continent. The shoe\’s location in the Altai Mountains is one of the main tombs of the Scythians, where many other objects and clothing were discovered near the boot.

As in other A̳n̳c̳i̳e̳n̳t̳ c̳i̳v̳i̳l̳i̳z̳a̳t̳i̳o̳n̳s̳, it was customary for these nomads to bury their dead with essential items to help them travel to the afterlife.

Approximate extent of Scythia, 1st century BC
The Scythians typically built wooden hut-like structures deep in the ground to house their dead, where each body was placed inside a wooden coffin filled with their belongings.

This scrupulous preparation, along with the permafrost of the Altai Mountains, is what has preserved the boot for centuries.

Coffin of logs from the tomb at Pazyryk, 1929. Archive of the Institute for the History of Material Culture
A Scythian and his horse were inseparable, even after de̳a̳t̳h̳. Along with their valuables and other objects, their horses were also buried along with them. The horse was an essential part of Scythian life and was the most important and versatile animal used by nomads. They initially raised large herds of horses primarily for their milk and hide, but later became one of the first people to use the horse as a mount. This was a huge success for the Scythians as it meant they could expand their horizons by moving at speeds of 30 to 40 miles per hour, overcoming environmental limits that immobilized those traveling on foot.

So they invented the first form of saddle, arguably one of their greatest contributions to human c̳i̳v̳i̳l̳i̳z̳a̳t̳i̳o̳n̳. Not surprisingly, his cavalry soon became the driving force behind his military might.

Reconstruction of horse traps from Scythian royal burials in the Pazyryk-Altai area, 5th century BC.
And the elaborate ornaments with which their horses were buried are definitely on par with the beauty of their funeral attire, including the magnificent women\’s boot featured here.

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