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K. Kris Hirst

5500 Year Old Shoe

By June 9, 2010

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Reported today in the open access journal PLoS One is the news of a 5500-year-old shoe, discovered in the Chalcolithic age deposits at Areni-1, a dry cave in the Vayots Dzor province of Armenia. The dry conditions of the cave have led to fabulous preservation, and the cave includes well-preserved occupations between the Neolithic and late Middle Ages.

Leather shoe from Areni-1, Armenia
Leather shoe from Areni-1, Armenia. Photo from
Pinhasi et al 2010

The shoe pictured here was discovered in a Chalcolithic (Copper Age) level, next to some animal bones (a red deer scapula, two horns of a wild goat and a fish vertebra), some reeds and ~40 potsherds dated to the Late Chalcolithic period.

The shoe, of processed cowhide, was made to fit a person's right foot. It is 24.5 cm long, 7.6-10 cm wide (European size 37; US size 7 women), and was made from a single piece of leather wrapped around the sole of the foot and laced together at the top. It was completely stuffed with grass, perhaps to maintain its shape. Like a moccasin, the shoe doesn't have either a constructed sole or vamp; its construction is probably closest to a pampootie, an ancient form of shoe thought to have been used by the Vikings and still made in the Aran Islands of Ireland. Modern pampooties have a very brief period of use, lasting only about one month before they fall apart.

Radiocarbon dates from the shoe leather and grass inside it suggest it was made between 3627-3377 cal BC. The Areni-1 shoe is not the oldest example of footwear in the world---that belongs to 10,000 year old sandals from Cougar Mountain and Catlow Caves in Oregon (~10,500-9200 cal BP); and some evidence suggests that we humans started wearing footwear perhaps 40,000 years ago. But, Areni-1's shoe is the oldest complete shoe specimen we have; and it is slightly older than either Otzi the Iceman's soft leather footwear or a moccasin recovered from Arnold Research Cave in Missouri.

The article appears in PLoS One, and because that journal is Open Access, anyone can read it and look at (and use) the pictures here.

Further Information

Creative Commons license for PLoS-ONE.

Pinhasi R, Gasparian B, Areshian G, Zardaryan D, Smith A, Bar-Oz G, and Higham T. 2010. First Direct Evidence of Chalcolithic Footwear from the Near Eastern Highlands. PLoS ONE 5(6):e10984. Free to download

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