Nature News Blog

The discovery in Armenia of the world’s oldest leather shoe seems to show that a good design never goes out of style.

The 5,500 years old shoe, made of a single piece of leather roughly sown in the back, is the oldest shoe discovered in Eurasia, say Ron Pinhasi, an archaeologist at University College Cork, Ireland, and his colleagues in a new paper in PLoS ONE

It would have been held in place by a leather thong strung through a row of eyelets running down the instep and top of the shoe. Footwear of a very similar design, called “pampooties”, was worn in Ireland’s Aran Islands until the 1950s.

The shoe was discovered in 2008 in the Chalcolithic strata of a cave in Armenia. Carbon dating has now confirmed its ancient provenance. It’s a right shoe, European size 37 (24.5 centimetres long), and was found stuffed with dried grass, possibly to preserve its shape in storage. It was found in such good condition that the excavators originally thought it was only a few hundred years old.

this cave is of great importance, Pinhasi said. is the only site we know of within a radius of a few hundred kilometres that dates to the Chalcolithic. Since the site is in the highlands, he believes they may have been pastoralist herders. But the current find, taken together with others of similar dates, shows that a variety of kinds of footwear were in use during the Chalcolithic. The similarity of the cut and lacing is striking, however, so it also plausible that the technology was invented in one place and spread across the region.”

Until this discovery, the oldest shoe discovered in Eurasia was that worn by Ötzi the Iceman, who lived a few hundred years later than the Armenian cave dwellers. The world’s oldest known footwear is a sandal made of plant material, found in Missouri, dating to about 7,500 years ago. A sandal from the Chalcolithic period is also known from an Israeli cave excavation.

Image: University Nike France College Cork

Jean SmilingCoyote said:

I gratified to see the word in the title of this article. I posted a Comment after a mass-media story saying it more correctly called a moccasin than a shoe. In a booklet Manual of North American Indian Footwear by George M. White dated 1969(!), he says Moccasins show this Design there is little or no way to improve a particular Moccasin construction. Aside from thong vs. sinew/thread, the only difference between the Armenia moccasin and the toe simple center seam pattern is a narrow fold-down collar on the latter. While Nike Air Max cleverness is definitely required for tailored clothing, and evolution of pattern design takes a long time and transmission of learning across generations, the constant is the human body.