The Oldest Handbag in the World?

We women have a healthy love affair with designer handbags, whatever our preferred style, color, and size. It seems that this is nothing new – we know that women in centuries past loved their handbags too, and the more beautiful they were, the better. But this obsession with handbags and purses goes back even further than that. Archaeologists have made some remarkable discoveries, and one from 2012 sheds new light on just how long women’s love affair with handbags has endured – and also gives a glimpse of what style was like thousands of years ago.

Archaeologists and excavators in Germany found what they believe to be the world’s oldest surviving handbag. It was located in a grave near the city of Leipzig, and dates to more than four thousand years ago.

The purse was embedded in the dirt of the grave, and the textile or soft leather from which it was made had almost entirely disintegrated (not surprisingly). What is surprising, however, is that what appears to be the outer flap of the purse was studded with hundreds of dog teeth.


The canine teeth are arranged in the same direction, obviously placed with purpose. It may seem strange to us that the teeth were used decoratively to embellish a handbag, but it’s possible this was a common practice. Canine teeth are actually commonly found in European burials dating from the Stone Age, and there is a theory that at that time, dogs were bred as a form of livestock as opposed to just being companion animals. Other burials have teeth from dogs and wolves, as well as mussel shells, which are arranged in such a way as to suggest they embellished blankets which covered the dead. Dog teeth were also used in jewellery and hair ornaments.

Many other relics were found at the site, showing evidence of settlements from the Stone Age and the Bronze Age. Included were hundreds of graves, stone tools, spear flints, ceramic pots, and buttons made of bone, and an amber necklace.

So when you carry your own designer-inspired handbag, spare a thought for what designer handbags were to your ancestors, thousands of years ago. And be glad that Fido is no longer prized for his teeth!