Call it the ultimate vintage score. Archaeologists from the University of California Los Angeles and Ireland have discovered the world’s oldest known enclosed leather shoe: a lace-up, shaped for the wearer’s right foot, in a women’s U.S. size 7. Unearthed in a cave in Armenia, the 5,500-year-old shoe is so immaculately preserved that its lace is still intact, despite being 1,000 years older than the Great Pyramid of Giza and 400 years older than Stonehenge. Whom it belonged to is cause for speculation. The smaller size suggests a woman, but it could also have fit a man with diminutive feet.
For a find that dates back to the dawn of civilization circa 3,500 B.C., the shoe’s resemblance to modern-day footwear is striking. It comprises a single piece of vegetable-tanned cowhide that is is laced along the front and back seams with a leather cord.
The shoe comprises a single piece of cowhide that is laced along the seams with a leather cord.
Stuffed with grass, perhaps as insulation or to maintain its shape (a Copper Age shoe tree, perhaps?), the shoe has the cave’s cool, dry interior to thank for its pristine condition, along with several layers of sheep dung that formed a protective seal against fungal decomposition.
“The crusts had sealed the artifacts and archaeological deposits, and the artifacts remained fresh-dried as if they were put in a can,” according to Gregory Areshian, a visiting associate professor at UCLA’s Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, who served as the dig’s co-director.
ON THE RECORD
Although the Armenian discovery is believed to be the oldest example of closed-toe leather footwear, other discoveries lay claim to being the most ancient. A pair of Native American leather sandals, discovered in a cave in Missouri in the 1970s, predates the Armenian shoe by an estimated 2,000 years.
A pair of Native American leather sandals predates the Armenian shoe by 2,000 years.
Previously, the oldest known enclosed shoes belonged to Ötzi the “Iceman,” who died roughly 5,300 years ago and was found in the Austrian Alps in 1991. Talk about a kick in the head.
[Via National Geographic]