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Archaeo News 

20 October 2010
Controversy over care of an ancient Armenian shoe

Armenian archeologists are worried about the future of the world's oldest (5,500-year-old) leather shoe, found in a cave in Armenia in 2008. It has not been fully examined yet; conservation issues of the shoe are not settled, and specialists are indignant that government officials take no steps to preserve it.
     The shoe, which is now displayed at the Yerevan History Museum, was found during the excavations in a cave which is part of The Arpa River Valley Monument. News of the world's most ancient shoe first appeared in mass media last June. Now, however, hard feelings and apparent carelessness by the Ministry of Culture delay the possibility of exposing even more significant treasures discovered in Areni that would arguably serve to put Armenia in the world spotlight.
     Boris Gasparyan, of the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography at the RA National Academy of Sciences, head of the Armenian archeological expedition, is extremely concerned about the further examination of the ancient shoe and says he himself had time enough only to estimate the age of the shoe and learn a little bit about how it was made, before it was taken custody by the state history museum. "It is impossible to carry out another kind of examination of the shoe in Armenia, because of the lack of proper laboratories, equipment and specialists," he says.
     The historical shoe is currently hosted by the Yerevan History Museum. Director of the museum Anelka Grigoryan says that the shoe is preserved with appropriate light and temperature regime, and there is no need to worry. However, specialists are still worried.  Archeologist Gregory Areshian says when the shoe was discovered, it was well-preserved, but now it must be conserved. "It will start getting dry and in some ten years it will completely fall apart," says Areshian.
     "The Ministry of Culture phoned our director and said that the President of Armenia [Serzh Sargsyan] wanted to see the shoe. We suggested that they come and see it at our institute. But they said it was not appropriate, so it was decided to take the shoe to the museum and register it. And once it is registered we do not have legal right to deal with it anymore," says Gasparyan. Areshian says that the museum and the Ministry of Culture of Armenia must take care of the conservation issues.
     According to Areshian, international institutions specializing in conservation of leather items can provide technical assistance to Armenia in this regard. The director of the museum said they have turned to a few restoration centers (in Oxford and Germany) for assistance and are waiting for their response. Gasparyan says, however, that New York's Metropolitan Museum, one of the world's most famous archeological centers, offered to fully examine the shoe, restore it and exhibit for six months as a compensation for their expenses, and later return the shoe to Armenia.

Edited from Armenia Now (12 October 2010)

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