15 June 2010
World's oldest leather shoe found in Armenia
A perfectly preserved shoe, 400 years older than Stonehenge in the UK, has been found in a cave in Armenia. The 5,500 year old shoe, the oldest leather shoe in the world, was discovered by a team of international archaeologists. The cow-hide shoe dates back to ~ 3,500 BCE (the Chalcolithic period) and is in perfect condition. It was made of a single piece of leather and was shaped to fit the wearer's foot. It contained grass, although the archaeologists were uncertain as to whether this was to keep the foot warm or to maintain the shape of the shoe.
"It is not known whether the shoe belonged to a man or woman," said lead author of the research, Dr Ron Pinhasi, University College Cork, Cork, Ireland "as while small (European size 37; US size 7 women), the shoe could well have fitted a man from that era." The cave is situated in the Vayotz Dzor province of Armenia, on the Armenian, Iranian, Nackhichevanian and Turkish borders.
The stable, cool and dry conditions in the cave resulted in exceptional preservation of the various objects that were found, which included large containers, many of which held well-preserved wheat and barley, apricots and other edible plants. "We thought initially that the shoe and other objects were about 600-700 years old because they were in such good condition," said Dr Pinhasi. "It was only when the material was dated by the two radiocarbon laboratories in Oxford, UK, and in California, US that we realised that the shoe was older by a few hundred years than the shoes worn by Oetzi, the Iceman."
The shoe was discovered by Armenian PhD student, Ms Diana Zardaryan, of the Institute of Archaeology, Armenia, in a pit that also included a broken pot and sheep's horns. "I was amazed to find that even the shoe-laces were preserved," she recalled.
The oldest known footwear in the world, to the present time, are sandals made of plant material, that were found in a cave in the Arnold Research Cave in Missouri in the US and dated to more than 7,000 years ago.
The wearing of shoes is almost certainly older than the oldest known shoes. For example, a weakening of small toe bones found in 40,000-year-old human fossils has been cited as evidence of the advent of shoes. Interestingly, the shoe found in Armenia is very similar to the 'pampooties' worn on the Aran Islands (in the West of Ireland) up to the 1950s. "In fact, enormous similarities exist between the manufacturing technique and style of this shoe and those found across Europe at later periods, suggesting that this type of shoe was worn for thousands of years across a large and environmentally diverse region," said Dr Pinhasi.
"We know that there are children's graves at the back of the cave but so little is known about this period that we cannot say with any certainty why all these different objects were found together," said Dr Pinhasi. The team will continue to excavate the many chambers of the cave.
Sources: PlosOne, EurekAlert!, UCLA Today, Associated Press, Yahoo! News, National Geographic News (9 June 2010)