Leather in Ancient Civilizations

At Contempo Sofa, we make some of our finest products from leather, a material that humans have been using for ages.  It’s a durable, flexible material primarily made from cattle hide and can be produced through a variety of methods, also known as tanning.

Leather Sandals from ancient RomeWhen do you think humans started using leather?  100 years ago?  Nah, guess a little higher.  1,000 years ago? Nope, keep guessing.  5,000 years ago?  Now you’re thinking!

The truth is, no one can really say for sure exactly when humans started making leather, but archaeologists have found leather artifacts dating as far back as the days of Ancient Greece.  Actually, one of the earliest descriptions we have of the ancient leather tanning process comes from Homer, author of The Iliad and The Odyssey.

Humans have been using skins obtained from hunting and livestock breeding for tens of thousands of years, but it was probably only a little more recently (3500 – 4000 BCE) that they realized that these skins reacted to dramatic changes in temperature and could be treated to become dry and taut.

The oldest known piece of leather apparel was a Chalcolithic era shoe, recovered during anChalcolithic era leather shoe found in Armenia archaeological cave dig in Armenia in 2008.  It was 24.5 cm long, and made from a single piece of leather wrapped around the foot.

Several ancient cultures used leather for clothing purposes, at least since the fourth millennium BCE. Shoes found in the Italian and Swiss Alps and sandals from Southern Israel suggest that with the rise of animal husbandry and settler civilizations, humans quickly adapted the use of rawhide, and continued to make considerable progress throughout the millennia.  The Sumerians used leather for long dresses and diadems for women.  The Assyrians expanded its use beyond clothing, crafting leather water flasks and inflatable leather floats.  The ancient Romans clothed entire armies in leather sandals, boots, shoes, armor and even leather shields.  And they conquered most of Europe!

A replica of Otzi the Iceman's clothingLeather is one of the oldest goods that humans developed upon the eve of civilization.  Even Otzi the Iceman, the world’s oldest known mummy, wore a leather coat, belt, leggings and loincloth.  And he presumably lived from 3300 BCE – 3255 BCE!  It’s a material with a rich history, and at Contempo Sofa, we’re proud to say that we’re using the ancient tradition to bring time-tested luxury and durability into your home.


Roman Sandals Photo Credit: Linda Spashett

Chalcolithic Shoe Photo Credit: Public Library of Science

Iceman Replica Photo Credit: Sandstein

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