|27 September 2016
World's oldest snowshoe found on an Italian glacier
Scientists in Italy's Dolomite mountains have unveiled what they believe to be the world's oldest snowshoe. Carbon-dating has shown that the rudimentary snow shoe, made of birch wood and twine, was made in the late Neolithic age, between 3,800 and 3,700 BCE. It was discovered by chance at an altitude of 3,134 metres (10,280ft) on the Gurgler Eisjoch glacier, close to Italy's border with Austria. The ice and freezing temperatures of the glacier had provided "ideal conditions for the preservation of organic material," the researchers said.
The shoe, which consists of an oval-shaped frame with strands of twine tied across it, was found by Simone Bartolini, a cartographer from Italy's Military Geographical Institute, who was mapping the border with Austria. He came across it in 2003 but for the next 12 years kept it in his office in Florence as a curiosity. "At first I thought it was maybe 100 years old and was a snow shoe that belonged to a farmer who lost it while driving cattle. I kept it in my office as a keepsake," Dr Bartolini said. It was only last year that it dawned on him that it could be much older and more significant. He gave it to archaeologists to study.
The discovery was made close to where the frozen, mummified remains of a Neolithic hunter - later nicknamed Oetzi - were found by two German hikers 25 years ago. "The shoe is evidence that people in the Neolithic period were living in the Alps area and had equipped themselves accordingly," said Dr Catrin Marzoli, the director of the province's cultural heritage department.
It was unclear why people were travelling through such an inhospitable region, she said. They may have been hunting animals, fleeing enemies from a rival tribe, or visiting sites of worship. The shoe will be put on display at the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano. Global warming and the gradual retreat of glaciers has helped unearth new finds, said Valentino Pagani, the museum's director of archaeology.
Edited from The Telegraph (12 September 2016)
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