The ingeniously designed folding chair, in existence in Mesopotamia 4,500 years ago and still widely used today, suddenly became popular in northern Europe 3,500 years ago.
It’s thought the Egyptian Pharaohs used the folding chairs as mobile thrones. Two examples were discovered in Tutankhamen’s tomb, one of them ornately crafted from ebony, with ivory inlays. Remarkably, around 20 folding chairs of the same design have been discovered so far, mostly north of the River Elbe in Germany. The most complete example, the Guldhøj Stool, was found in a tree-trunk coffin in Denmark in 1891, was made . It was locally made of ash wood with an otter-skin seat by a craftsman on the Jutland peninsula and has been dated to 1389 BC.
Did the northern Europeans design their folding chairs independently of the Egyptians? German archaeologist Bettina Pfaff thinks not. She told der Spiegel, “The design and dimensions of the chairs are too similar. They were copied.”
Recent finds show how far-reaching the Bronze Age trade network was. Craftsmen in Germany’s Harz Mountains worked with gold from Cornwall, made swords based on a Mycenaean design, and copied looped needles from Cyprus. Luxury goods were commonly relayed from region to region. But the difference with the folding chairs is that, while examples have been found in Ancient Egypt and northern Europe, none have been found in the vast lands of southern and central Europe in between.
This suggests that Germanic traders, possibly travelling overland by oxcart on dirt roads, made the journey to North Africa and brought the folding chair design back with them to the North Sea coast. The chairs became a ‘must have’ in Northern Europe shortly after Egypt’s power and influence expanded under Pharaoh Thutmose III (1479 to 1426 BC) to the borders of modern-day Turkey and mainland Greece.