You are looking at a picture of the world’s oldest known leather shoe. It was found in an Armenian cave in 2008, and an international team of archeologists recently published their analysis of this object in the journal PLoS One.
Scientists have debated as to when humans decided to cover their feet. Most hypothesize that we have been shoed for tens of thousands of years. However, the reasons behind our ancestors’ abandonment of bare feet are hotly debated. As for this specimen, it is not the oldest known shoe. But, it is the oldest known shoe that is not made from plant material.
The shoe itself is made of leather, most likely cowhide. Both the shoe and the grass loosely stuffed in it date to approximately 3627–3377 B.C.E. “B.C.E.” stands for “before common era,” a newer term synonymous with “B.C.” (“Before Christ”). The shoe fits a human right foot. Based on the dimensions, archeologists assume the shoe fit a woman (American size 7). The grass haphazardly stuffed inside the shoe may have indicated that it was inserted to preserve the shoe shape for storage. Leather laces closed the shoe firmly around the wearer’s foot.
The shoe discovery, while newsworthy, is merely the tip of the iceberg. The cave in which the shoe was found is called Areni-1. It has been inhabited by human groups from these ancient times up through the medieval period. However, there are distinct portions of the cave that date from the Chalcolithic (“Copper”) Age, including the areas where this shoe was found. The Copper Age encompasses the 4th millennium B.C.E., during which this shoe was manufactured. Other items in this cave date from the same time period, including dried fruits, a possible winemaking apparatus, obsidian stone tools, animal remains, and several ritualistic jars (including one vessel which contained a teenage human skull). All in all, it seems Areni-1 was a cave of some importance to a population of Copper Age humans. It served as living quarters and sites of rituals.
Areni-1 is a rare window to the past: a glimpse at how our ancestors survived and thrived, and laid the ground for a more prosperous future for their descendants. And the search of this extensive archeological treasure is not complete. More clues to our past may be hidden in the caves depths! After all, shoes work best in pairs, and the left partner of this shoe remains missing.
Image provided courtesy of Boris Gasparian and the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology in Yerevan, Armenia.