Archaeologists have discovered two ancient Egyptian skeletons, dating back more than 3,300 years, which were each buried with a toe ring made of copper alloy, the first time such rings have been found in ancient Egypt.
The toe rings were likely worn while the individuals were still alive, and the discovery leaves open the question of whether they were worn for fashion or magical reasons.
Supporting the magical interpretation, one of the rings was found on the right toe of a male, age 35 to 40, whose foot had suffered a fracture along with a broken femur above it. [See Images of Skeletons & Toe Rings]
Unique Rings in a Unique Ancient City
Both skeletons were found in a cemetery just south of the ancient city of Akhetaten, whose name means "Horizon of the Aten." Now called Amarna, the city of Akhetaten was a short-lived Egyptian capital built by Akhenaten a pharaoh who tried to focus Egypt's religion around the worship of the sun disc, the "Aten." He was also likely the father of Tutankhamun.
After Akhenaten's death, this attempt to change Egyptian religion unraveled, as his successors denounced him and the city became abandoned. Even so, Anna Stevens, the assistant director of the Amarna Project, said the newly discovered rings are unlikely to be related to the religious changes Akhenaten introduced.
The findings do appear to be the first copper alloy toe rings discovered in ancient Egypt. "I'm not aware of any, but that doesn't mean they don't exist. Bear in mind that if we found something like this in a house, for example, we would have no idea of its purpose," Stevens wrote in an email to LiveScience.
A gold toe ring was previously found on a mummy named Hornedjitef, a priest at Karnak more than 2,200 years ago. The mummy, which resides at the British Museum, has a "thick gold ring on the big toe of his left foot," writes anthropologist Joyce Filer in her book "The Mystery of the Egyptian Mummy" (British Museum Press, 2003). [Images: The Faces of Egyptian Mummies Revealed]
A Magical Healing Device?
The man whose right foot had been injured was likely in great pain when alive.
He "showed signs of multiple antemortem [before his death] fractures, including of several ribs, the left radius, right ulna, right foot (on which the toe ring was found) and right femur," Stevens wrote. "The fracture of the right femur healed at an angle and must have caused this individual considerable ongoing pain."