Buttons and button-like objects used as ornaments or seals rather than fasteners have been discovered in the Indus Valley civilization during its Kot Diji phase (c. 2800–2600 BC), at the Tomb of the Eagles, Scotland (2200-1800 BC), and at Bronze Age sites in China (c. 2000–1500 BC) and Ancient Rome.
Buttons made from seashell were used in the Indus Valley Civilization for ornamental purposes by 2000 BC. Some buttons were carved into geometric shapes and had holes pierced into them so that they could be attached to clothing with thread. Ian McNeil (1990) holds that "the button was originally used more as an ornament than as a fastening, the earliest known being found at Mohenjo-daro in the Indus Valley. It is made of a curved shell and about 5000 years old."
Egypt's Eighteenth Dynasty left behind ornate wig covers, fabricated through sewing buttons formed of precious metals onto strips of backing material.
Leatherwork from the Roman Empire incorporates some of the first buttonholes, with the legionary Loculus (satchel) closed through the insertion of a metallic buckle, or button into a leather slit. A similar mechanism would later feature in early medieval footwear. Buttons appeared as a means to close cuffs in the Byzantine Empire and to fasten the necks of Egyptian tunics by no later than the 5th century.
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