Ancient socks for sandals

I’ve just found this image on Facebook, and thought it worthy of a post on here. These are clearly a pair of interestingly-shaped socks. However, perhaps more interesting is the fact that they are Romano-Egyptian socks from 250-420 AD, excavated from Oxyrhynchus, Egypt, at the end of the 19th century. The strange toes come from the fact that these were made to be worn in sandals. I’m just staggered by the wonderful preservation of these items considering their age.

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After a quick Google search, this came up regarding these socks from the V&A (their current home):

The Romano-Egyptian socks were excavated in the burial grounds of ancient Oxyrhynchus, a Greek colony on the Nile in central Egypt at the end of the 19th century. They were given to the Museum in 1900 by Robert Taylor Esq., ‘Kytes,’ Watford. He was executor of the estate of the late Major Myers and these items were selected among others from a list of textiles as ‘a large number of very useful examples.’

And Emily Spivack, writing in the Smithsonian, adds:

Particularly intriguing about these “very useful examples” is the technique used to construct these red wool socks. Called nålbindning, or single-needle knitting, this time-consuming process required only a single thread. The technique was frequently used for close-fitting garments for the head, feet and hands because of its elastic qualities. Primarily from prehistoric times, nålbindning came before the two-needle knitting that’s standard today; each needle was crafted from wood or bone that was “flat, blunt and between 6-10 cm long, relatively large-eyed at one end or the eye is near the middle.”

We don’t know for sure whether these socks were for everyday use, worn with a pair of sandals to do the ancient Egyptian equivalent of running errands or heading to work—or if they were used as ceremonial offerings to the dead (they were found by burial grounds, after all).

This reminds me of a story I was told by a professional archaeologist friend about an exhumation he was carrying out at a local church. An elderly lady who had died in the 1960s was being carefully removed, and she was entirely skeletal. However, over her feet were a pair of intact, perfectly-preserved and almost knee-high socks.

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