Archaeologists from the University of California, Los Angeles, and Ireland have discovered the world's oldest leather shoe, an exquisitely preserved, 5,600-year-old woman's size 7 lace-up, in a cave in Armenia.
LOS ANGELES — Archaeologists from the University of California, Los Angeles, and Ireland have discovered the world’s oldest leather shoe, an exquisitely preserved, 5,600-year-old woman’s size 7 lace-up, in a cave in Armenia.
The shoe, 1,000 years older than the great pyramid of Egypt and 400 years older than Stonehenge in the United Kingdom, was in such pristine condition that at first researchers thought it was just a few centuries old. It was stuffed with grass that may have been used to keep the wearer’s foot warm or that might have been to preserve the shoe’s shape for storage, the researchers reported Wednesday in the online journal PLoS One.
Both grass and shoe were well preserved, like other organic materials discovered in preliminary excavations of the cave on the border between Armenia and Iran, including winemaking apparatus complete with grapes and three human heads preserved in jars.
Most such materials degrade over time; the team attributed the unusual preservation to the cave’s perennially cool temperature and low humidity and a concretelike layer of sheep dung that sealed everything in and prevented fungi from destroying the remains.
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The artifacts date from the Chalcolithic or Copper Age, when the first metal tools began appearing. “The fourth millennium is when the modern world appears — the first cities, the first kings, the first axes, the first bureaucrats, and the first international trading system,” said archaeologist Mitchell S. Rothman of Widener University in Chester, Pa.
Southern Iraq, where the first cities appeared, had no natural resources of its own and all the raw materials had to come from the surrounding mountains, from sites like this one.
Before the discovery, the oldest known footwear from Eurasia was found on Otzi, the Iceman discovered on a glacier in the Otztal Alps on the border between Austria and Italy. Those shoes are about 5,300 years old, but were in relatively poor shape. They were moccasin-type footwear in which the sole is attached to an upper “sock” with leather thongs.
The oldest known footwear — more sandal than shoe — were discovered in Missouri and are about 6,900 years old. Made from woven fibers and leather, they are also in poor condition.
Radiocarbon dating indicated that the newly found shoe was from about 3,600 B.C. Its relatively sophisticated design, however, suggests that the style had already been in use for a long period, said UCLA archaeologist Gregory Areshian, the co-leader of the research team.