My latest project on ancient Egyptian beadwork focuses on the research of how a pair of small beaded sandals, found in the tomb of Tutankhamun, weremade 3.300 years ago. This work will include the analysis of the ancient beading craft and the description of the beading pattern. In the coming months, I will then be making reconstructions of these objects for an exciting new exhibition on ancient footwear in the Bata museum in Toronto (Canada). By making these reconstructions I will hopefully be learning much more than I could have done by only examining the original items in the museum. Making these sandals will provide me with information on (for instance) the amount of time spent in production and more aspects of this ancient technology.
So, from April 2017 onwards you will find me in our studio making a pair of shoes of the most impressive kind: Egyptian sandals entirely made of tiny glass beads. I will stay as close to the way they were originally made 3.300 years ago in ancient Egypt, as I can. In this particular period of pharaonic history, the 18th Dynasty, people produced spectacular beadwork and the sandals of this king are certainly not the only impressive artifacts made of beads. But, first things first, of course. My first mission these coming few weeks will be to unravel the intricate pattern and the ancient technique. After this, the aim is to find a bead supplier for this shape and type of bead. The type and color will probably not be the problem, the (tiny) size however, might be. Each sandal is made up of a few thousand beads of less than 2 mm in diameter. For examining the pattern, I will first make large printouts from photographs, and use magnifying glasses and a computer screen to zoom in on the images to get the job done.
In this image you will see how the sandals were found in the tomb of Tutankhamun when archaeologist Howard Carter discovered the tomb in the 1920’s. The pair were not found together; most likely tomb robbers had taken one of the sandals out of the box in which they were kept and then left the sandal on top of other objects. You will find more information on the excavation of these objects in this link. The sandals were in good condition, but the beadwork was very fragile and in order to take these artifacts out of the tomb in one piece, the beadwork was fixated in 1922 with hot liquid wax. This layer of wax remains on the beadwork until today. The sandals were probably worn by king Tut when he was a boy. The sandals are approximately 18 cm in size, equivalent to our size 30 (European that is for present-day children of approximately 6 to 7 years of age).
Over the years the sandals deteriorated quite a bit and a lot of the small beads are lying loose on the surface of the objects at this moment. Also, the wax causes the objects to be hard and the beads to be immovable and difficult to study. André J. Veldmeijer published them in his book “Tutankhamun’s Footwear, Studies of Ancient Egyptian Footwear”. If you check out the online publication you will find very detailed photographs of the sandals. Anyway, last week I worked on the pattern and the technique. In the coming weeks I will make a pattern description and detailed drawing of the pattern to be used in my reconstructions. Then (after finding the right beads, thread and needles) the fun will begin. And of course I will keep you posted on the progress and post more information on the sandals as I go along.
All images of artifacts used in this blogpost have been published previously online. Links to these publications and institutes can be found by clicking on the image. The sandals have been published by André J. Veldmeijer and Sidestone press and the Griffith Institute in Oxford, Tutankhamun: Anatomy of an Excavation.