Experts restore 1,400-year-old shoes from a Chinese tomb
Chinese archaeologists are restoring a pair of 1,400-year-old goat leather shoes that were found in the Astana Tombs in the capital of the ancient Gaocheng kingdom. Experts from Germany will spend 20 days helping Chinese researchers restore the shoes.
It is rare to find leather or textiles this old, and when they are found they can disintegrate quickly when exposed to the air.
“Xu Dongliang of Academia Turfanica said the shoes, plucked from the large archive of items excavated from the Astana Tombs since the 1950s, are 24 cm (9.45 inches) long, with the vamps, uppers and soles separately tailored. They were made of goat skin and the parts sewed together using animal sinew,” says an article in China.org.cn. “Xu said technicians would use special microscopes to analyze the shoes. Using precision techniques, the restoration will remove dirt and mold, and reshape and reinforce the shoes to make them more sturdy.”
Archaeologists have excavated the tombs for more than a century in present-day Turpan. Just since the 1950s, 456 tombs have been examined over 14 digs that have turned up 10,000 valuable relics. The heat and dry air have preserved many items that would have otherwise deteriorated or disintegrated, including 300 leather items.
The Astana Tombs are in the town of Turfan or Turpan in Xinjiang Province in the Uigur Autonomous Region of northwest China. They are part of the ruins of the Gaocheng Kingdom that built up along the Silk Route to glorious city of Samarkand in Uzbekistan between 200 and 1000 AD. Turfan was an oasis town in the Taklamakan Desert.
The tombs were a burial place for royalty and people of lower social status too.
A painting of a dancer from a tomb in Astana, dated to 702 AD. (Wikimedia Commons)
Ancient shoes have been found in a number of archaeological sites around the world. For example, hundreds of shoes or moccasins were among a wealth of artifacts found in a cave in Utah that was inhabited beginning around 850 years ago. The cave, on the shores of the Great Salt Lake in Utah, had 207 animal-skin moccasins that would have mostly belonged to children. The soles of the shoes were made from a single piece of bison leather, lined with fur, and sewn together at the heel. This matches the exact style typical of the Canadian Subarctic.
Child and adult moccasins hundreds of years old from a cave in Utah (Photo by Daderot/Wikimedia Commons)
The presence of so many children’s shoes indicates a thriving population in a place where people were leaving the region because the climate was becoming drier. The people who made the shoes are known as the Promontory culture.
Another story from China, from May 2014, was the excavation of the oldest pair of pants in the world. A team of archaeologists excavating tombs in western China uncovered the remains of two nomadic herders and a 3,000-year-old pair of trousers with woven patterns, which are the oldest known pair ever discovered. The finding gives support to the theory that the transition from tunics to trousers was a practical development for horse-riders of the time.
The oldest trousers in the world at 3,000 years, found in 2014 in China
It is not known when humans first began making clothing because of fast deterioration of fabrics and materials, but estimates range between 100,000 and 500,000 years ago. The first clothes were made from animal skins and furs, grasses, leaves, bones and shells. Clothing was often draped or tied, but simple needles made out of animal bone provide evidence of sewn leather and fur garments from at least 40,000 years ago. When settled Neolithic cultures discovered the advantages of woven fibers, the making of cloth emerged as one of humankind's fundamental technologies. The earliest dyed fibers have been found in a prehistoric cave in the Republic of Georgia and date back to 36,000 BC.
The first clothing made from woven fabrics, in both Europe and Asia, included simple tunics, robes, togas, wraps, and tied cloths. But at some point, this progressed to more sophisticated garments, which included trousers. Researchers have been eager to find out when and why this development occurred and the latest finding has helped to shed light on these questions.
In a related subject, now that glaciers are melting around the world at such a rapid rate, people are finding many artifacts that had been buried in ice and snow. Archaeologists are in a race to retrieve and preserve the objects, some of which are fragile.
In 2006, a woodworker hiking near Lendbreen in Norway came across a well-preserved leather shoe, which, incredibly, was last worn in the Bronze Age, some 3,400 years ago. In 2011 another amazing discovery was made – a 1,700-year-old well-preserved tunic made of lamb’s wool.
1,700-year-old tunic recovered from ice. (Photo: Mårten Teigen/Museum of Cultural History)
Among the items preserved in ice, fabric and leather are the most remarkable—and the most fragile. Wood artifacts may last a few years once they melt out of the ice, but for these items, the clock runs out much faster. Researchers have a week or less to recover leather before it dries out, becomes light and brittle, and blows away.
Featured image: A Chinese archeological research institute working with the help of German experts will restore a pair of 1,400-year-old leather shoes from the Astana Tombs. [Photo/China News]
By Mark Miller