World's Oldest Leather Shoe Found in Armenia

Jun 09, 2010
This undated handout photo provided by the Department of Archaeology University College Cork, Cork Ireland, shows a well preserved and complete shoe was recovered at the base of a Chalcolithic pit in the cave in Armenia. (Department of Archaeology University College Cork)

(PhysOrg.com) -- A perfectly preserved shoe, 1,000 years older than the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt and 400 years older than Stonehenge in the UK, has been found in a cave in Armenia.

The 5,500 year old shoe, the oldest leather shoe in the world, was discovered by a team of international archaeologists and their findings will publish on June 9th in the online scientific journal PLoS ONE.

The cow-hide shoe dates back to ~ 3,500 BC (the Chalcolithic period) and is in perfect condition. It was made of a single piece of leather and was shaped to fit the wearer's foot. It contained grass, although the archaeologists were uncertain as to whether this was to keep the foot warm or to maintain the shape of the shoe, a precursor to the modern shoe-tree perhaps? "It is not known whether the shoe belonged to a man or woman," said lead author of the research, Dr Ron Pinhasi, University College Cork, Cork, Ireland "as while small (European size 37; US size 7 women), the shoe could well have fitted a man from that era." The cave is situated in the Vayotz Dzor province of Armenia, on the Armenian, Iranian, Nackhichevanian and Turkish borders, and was known to regional archaeologists due to its visibility from the highway below.

The stable, cool and dry conditions in the cave resulted in exceptional preservation of the various objects that were found, which included large containers, many of which held well-preserved wheat and barley, apricots and other edible plants. The preservation was also helped by the fact that the floor of the cave was covered by a thick layer of sheep dung which acted as a solid seal over the objects, preserving them beautifully over the millennia!

"We thought initially that the shoe and other objects were about 600-700 years old because they were in such good condition," said Dr Pinhasi. "It was only when the material was dated by the two laboratories in Oxford, UK, and in California, US that we realised that the shoe was older by a few hundred years than the shoes worn by Ötzi, the Iceman."

A perfectly preserved, 5,500-year-old shoe was discovered in a cave in Armenia by team that included UCLA archaeologists.

Three samples were taken in order to determine the absolute age of the shoe and all three tests produced the same results. The cut two small strips of leather off the shoe and sent one strip to the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit at the University of Oxford and another to the University of California -Irvine Accelerator Mass Spectrometry Facility. A piece of grass from the shoe was also sent to Oxford to be dated and both shoe and grass were shown to be the same age.

The shoe was discovered by Armenian PhD student, Ms Diana Zardaryan, of the Institute of Archaeology, Armenia, in a pit that also included a broken pot and sheep's horns. "I was amazed to find that even the shoe-laces were preserved," she recalled. "We couldn't believe the discovery," said Dr Gregory Areshian, Cotsen Institute of Archaeology at UCLA, US, co-director who was at the site with Mr Boris Gasparyan, co-director, Institute of Archaeology, Armenia when the shoe was found. "The crusts had sealed the artefacts and archaeological deposits and artefacts remained fresh dried, just like they were put in a can," he said.

The discovery was made in Armenia’s Vayotz Dzor province, on the country’s border with Iran and Turkey.

The oldest known footwear in the world, to the present time, are sandals made of plant material, that were found in a cave in the Arnold Research Cave in Missouri in the US. Other contemporaneous sandals were found in the Cave of the Warrior, Judean Desert, Israel, but these were not directly dated, so that their age is based on various other associated artefacts found in the cave.

Interestingly, the shoe is very similar to the 'pampooties' worn on the Aran Islands (in the West of Ireland) up to the 1950s. "In fact, enormous similarities exist between the manufacturing technique and style of this shoe and those found across Europe at later periods, suggesting that this type of shoe was worn for thousands of years across a large and environmentally diverse region," said Dr Pinhasi.

"We do not know yet what the or other objects were doing in the cave or what the purpose of the cave was," said Dr Pinhasi. "We know that there are children's graves at the back of the cave but so little is known about this period that we cannot say with any certainty why all these different objects were found together." The team will continue to excavate the many chambers of the cave.

Explore further: Limestone 'Venus' 23,000 years old dug up in France

More information: Pinhasi R, Gasparian B, Areshian G, Zardaryan D, Smith A, et al. (2010) First Direct Evidence of Chalcolithic Footwear from the Near Eastern Highlands. PLoS ONE 5(6): e10984. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0010984

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User comments : 9

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gwrede
4 / 5 (8) Jun 09, 2010
Of course we civilized folks don't fall for this. And nobody else, who has any familiarity with headline writing in America.

But please, PhysOrg, this site really is one of only a few web sites where the young and hungry gather, to get their first impressions of science, and the community around it.

----

So, headlines like "world's oldes leather shoe" may lead them to believe that humankind only started to wear leather shoes in 3500 BC.

Wouldn't it be more honest to say that because we found this shoe, we should presume that by 3500 BC the use of leather shoes was quite common.

For us "in the know" this distinction may not seem like a big deal, but for someone just building their view of the world, this may be pivotal. The phrasings, the subtleties, the implied -- all of this works differently than for us "old farts", who already know.

PS, I hope someone with a Teaching or Education Degree might chime in...
ScientistAmauterEnthusiast
5 / 5 (3) Jun 09, 2010
I think you would have to be pretty stupid to assume that this is the first ever leather shoe, though they could had phrased is better i guess.

Caliban
3 / 5 (2) Jun 09, 2010
Agreed- should have said "oldest leather shoe yet found". Less subject to mis- or dis-interpretation.
theapc
not rated yet Jun 09, 2010
Shoes found with grains. How appropriate!
GaryB
not rated yet Jun 10, 2010
I'd assume the actual oldest shoe dates to the discovery of the process to make leather or about 7000BCE. What else would you first use a tough thick material for?
MarkyMark
not rated yet Jun 10, 2010
I agree that the title could have been better. Personally tho i suspect that the majoraty of those such as myself who come to this site without a degree in science would be able to tell what it really means.
baudrunner
1 / 5 (1) Jun 10, 2010
I'm looking forward to seeing this shoe in the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto, where it should eventually end up. It's a truly valuable artifact.
Parsec
not rated yet Jun 10, 2010
Perhaps the word 'known' should have been inserted in the headline. But, a well known rule in writing is to eliminate unnecessary words and explanations if the ideas are commonly understood.

The article makes abundantly clear that this shoe was discovered and dated, making it the oldest known shoe. I find it hard to believe that anyone would look at the headlines and then read the article and believe that this was the very first shoe of its type in existence. Given that, adding additional headline words violates one of the basic tenets of good journalism.
johnkeithhan
not rated yet Jun 11, 2010
This is a ridiculous discussion concerning the wording in the headline of this article. I truly could care less how it was worded. It's a great find and is certainly the oldest leather shoe that I've seen. Those of you "in the know" (so you say) should find some more worthwhile causes to adopt. How ridiculous!

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