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Toe Rings, Ancient Egyptian Skeletons

Archaeologists Uncover First Ever Ancient Egyptian Skeletons Wearing Copper Toe Rings

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Just south of the ancient city of Akhetaten in Egypt (now called Amarna), archaeologists have made a perplexing discovery – two Egyptian skeletons dating back 3,300 years, both of which were wearing a copper toe ring, the first time this type of copper jewellery has ever been found in ancient Egypt. 

The skeletons were found in an ancient cemetery which appears to have been used for the lower to middle class of the city’s society.  Their bodies were wrapped in textile and plant-stem matting, and, during their lives it is most likely that they were workers in the old city of Akhetaten.

"They [the two individuals] probably lived, like most citizens of Amarna, in a small house adjacent to that of a larger villa belonging to one of the city's officials, for whom they provided services and labor in exchange for basic provisions, especially grain," said Anna Stevens, the assistant director of the Amarna Project.

But unlike other villagers, these two skeletons contained something unique – a copper toe ring on one foot, which archaeologists say were most likely worn while the individuals were still alive and not placed there after their death.

Such a finding is rare and it is unknown whether the toe ring was worn for fashion or for some superstitious reason.  Historians supporting the superstition/magical hypothesis point to the fact that one of the skeletons wore the toe ring on a foot that was broken and who had other injuries to his leg, which would have caused him great pain.  The act of ‘binding’ or ‘encircling’ was a powerful magical device in ancient Egypt, and a metal ring could have been intended as a magical healing device.  Researchers are continuing to check through sources such as the corpus of magico-medical spells that have survived from ancient Egypt to try to find references to such a practice. 

However, those arguing against this theory point to the fact that the second individual did not have any visible signs of injury – although in-depth analysis is still underway.

For now, the case of the toe rings remains a mystery.

By April Holloway

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