In 2010 Archaeologists in Armenia made an important discovery when excavating a cave. Along with some children’s graves, pottery and animal horns they found a pair of leather shoes which they originally thought were about 700 years old but careful radiocarbon dating later revealed the shoes to be from 3653 – 3627 BC making them 5500 years old!
The shoes, which were the oldest found anywhere in the world, were moccasin like in appearance and their small size suggested they may have belonged to a woman.
Usually leather goods would degrade and not survive for such a long period of time but they were kept cool, dry and away from the air by layers of sheep dung which had accumulated in the cave over the succeeding years.
The shoes were thought to be of good quality and so possibly belonged to a person of high standing in the area. They were fashioned from a single piece of cow hide and had been tanned with oil.
Tanning was likely to have been a relatively new technology at that time. The shoes were made in the Chalcolithic period, otherwise known as the Copper Age, which is believed to be the time when humans invented the wheel and first domesticated horses.
Further ingenuity could be seen in the way the shoes were laced with a leather tie through slits cut in the shoe. One of the slits showed signs of repair as it had split and been replaced with a new cut.
The shoes had definitely been worn as they showed wear to the sole. At that time people walked great distances which was illustrated by a find of Obsidian in the cave which must have come from at least 75 miles away.
However much they had been used, the shoes were well cared for as they were found packed with grass which acted like a shoe tree to help hold their shape. They were found to be approximately a modern size UK size 4 which suggests a female owner but could have belonged to a man as little is known about the stature of the Armenian people at that time. Whether these shoes Men’s or women’s they were reminiscent of modern moccasins or sheepskin slippers.
Prior to the Armenian discovery the oldest known shoes had belonged to Ötzi the Iceman who was discovered by hikers on the Austrian/Italian border in 1991. The unsuspecting walkers were enjoying a hike in the mountains when they came across what they thought was a climber who had perished in the ice.
The body turned out to date from 3300 BC and was Europe’s oldest natural mummy. Ötzi was wearing shoes which had bearskin soles, deerskin uppers and bark netting inside. They were of sophisticated construction suggesting that there may have been some cobblers or shoe making specialists even as early as that time. The shoes were quite wide which suggested they had been made to cope with walking on snow.
It is incredible to see the window on the past that these shoes have provided and how similar the footwear was in so many ways to items we still wear to this day. We will never know who owned the Armenian shoes but sadly we do know that Ötzi was a murder victim as an arrow head was found embedded in his shoulder!
Sally S writes on a wide range of topics including history, travel and sports.