Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA - Nubian Sandal; Lynn, MA – Jan Matzeliger Grave (Pine Grove Cemetery)

Nubian Sandal.jpg


Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA - Nubian Sandal; Lynn, MA – Jan Matzeliger Grave (Pine Grove Cemetery)

Catalog Entry

This sandal was uncovered in a land of the forgotten. It was worn by a member of the ancient Nubian civilization. It is estimated to be from a time somewhere between 2400-1550 BCE. This civilization, also known as the kingdom of Kush, is considered to be one of the first black African civilizations. Kush possessed an abundance of riches, including spices, incense, animal skins, and gold, making them desirable trade partners with the neighboring nation of Egypt. The Egyptian empire overshadowed this society and at times occupied the region, impacting what information we have and the distinctions between the two communities. The sandal depicted is made of cowhide. Sandals like these were most likely worn to protect their feet from the hot sediment.

The second photo is the gravestone of Jan Matzeliger, a man of African descent who revolutionized the shoe-making industry. This monument can be found in Pine Grove Cemetery in Lynn, Massachusetts, where Matzeliger made his invention “The Shoe Laster.” Lynn, Massachusetts during the late 1800s produced more than half of our country’s shoes. Matzeliger was an immigrant who worked hard to put himself through school first to learn English and then to study physics and mechanical science. Despite the challenges Matzeliger faced he kept pushing through. Many of his peers in the shoe making industry belittled his idea believing no machine could do such work. By 1883 Matzeliger had a patent for the machine he invented which attaches the top portion of the shoe to the sole, typically done by hand through an intricate process called lasting. Master lasters could make about fifty shoes during a ten-hour work day, and Matzeliger’s final design made up to 700 shoes a day. Unfortunately, Jan Matzeliger died at the age of 37 in 1889 before receiving much compensation for his invention.

These two artifacts represent apparel advances in history. They show that the history of footwear has greatly transformed over the centuries. Both from underrepresented and overlooked cultures, these artifacts are evidence of the talent and artistic skill of people of African descent. Jan Matzeliger may have died and Ancient Nubian legacies may have died out, but, to give them both their well-deserved gratitude, we must share all the knowledge and history we have.


"Jan Matzeliger (1852–1889)." African American Almanac, Lean'tin Bracks, Visible Ink Press, 2012. Credo Reference, Accessed 23 Nov. 2018.

"University of Chicago opens new gallery devoted to ancient Nubia." Diverse Issues in Higher Education, 6 Apr. 2006, 13. Expanded Academic ASAP, Accessed 20 Nov. 2018.

Artifact Owner

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Catalog Entry Author(s)

Dana Tribandis, Student, Fitchburg State University


Courtesy of the MFA
Kisha G. Tracy


“Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA - Nubian Sandal; Lynn, MA – Jan Matzeliger Grave (Pine Grove Cemetery),” Cultural Heritage through Image, accessed May 26, 2024,

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