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.
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.
- Shoes and Footwear History
- Tianyuan Cave, China (evidence for 40,000 year old footwear
- Otzi the Iceman
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