World’s oldest leather shoe found in Armenian cave

World's oldest leather shoe found in Armenian cave

World’s oldest leather shoe found in Armenian cave

A 5,500-year-old leather shoe with laces has been discovered in an Armenian cave.

The fully preserved shoe is the oldest known example of sealed leather footwear, dating back 1,000 years before the Great Pyramid of Giza and 400 years before Stonehenge, and outdating the shoes worn by “Ötzi the Iceman” by a few hundred years.

The sole-less right shoe is made of a single piece of cowhide and was discovered to contain grass, which may have helped to keep the foot warm or keep the shoe in shape. It’s unclear if the shoe, which measures 24.5cm in length and is a European size 37, belonged to a man or a woman, but it’s believed to have been designed for a man. It was discovered around 3500 BC during the Chalcolithic period.

The discovery was made in Vayotz Dzor province on Armenia’s border with Iran and Turkey by Diana Zardaryan, of Armenia’s Institute of Archaeology. “I was amazed to find that even the shoelaces were preserved,” she said.

World’s oldest leather shoe, found at a cave in Armenia.

The discovery – made in 2008 – has been published in the online scientific journal PloS ONE.

Such a well-preserved artefact from a Middle Eastern archaeological site is unusual because the high content of salts and fungi in the soil, as well as fluctuations in temperature and humidity, usually fast-track the deterioration of organic materials.

However the cave’s stable, cool conditions – aided by a thick layer of sheep dung on the floor – aided preservation.

Other finds at the site included large containers, many storing well-preserved wheat, barley and apricots, plus a broken pot, fish bones and sheep’s horns.

“We couldn’t believe the discovery,” said the dig’s co-director Gregory Areshian, part of an international team of archaeologists working at the site.

“The crusts had sealed the artefacts and archaeological deposits, and artefacts remained fresh dried, just like they were put in a can.”

The shoe is similar to the ‘pampootsies’ worn until the 1950s on Ireland’s Aran Islands. “Enormous similarities exist between manufacturing technique and style of this shoe and those found across Europe at later periods,” said Dr Ron Pinhasi of Cork University. “(This suggests) that this type of shoe was worn for thousands of years across a large and environmentally diverse geographic region.

“We do not know yet what the shoe or other objects were doing in the cave or what the purpose of the cave was.

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 cave, which has multiple chambers.

While the Armenian discovery may claim the honours as the world’s oldest leather shoe, the oldest known footwear – a moccasin and a pair of leather sandals discovered in a cave in Missouri – are believed to be some 2,000 years older.

Leather sandals of a similar age to the Armenian shoe were found in Israel’s Judean Desert, but their age was based on other artefacts in the so-called Cave of the Warriors rather than on the sandals themselves.

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