World’s oldest leather shoe found in Armenia (5,500 years)

A perfectly preserved shoe, 1,000 years older than the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt and 300 years older than Newgrange, Co Meath has been found in a cave in Armenia. The 5,500 year old shoe, the oldest leather shoe in the world, was discovered by a team of international archaeologists and their findings published today (Wednesday, June 9th) in the online scientific journal PLoS ONE. The cow-hide shoe dates back to ~ 3,500 BC  (the Chalcolithic period) and is in perfect condition.  It was made of a single piece of leather and was shaped to fit the wearer’s foot.  It contained grass, although the archaeologists were uncertain as to whether this was to keep the foot warm or to maintain the shape of the shoe, a precursor to the modern shoe-tree perhaps?   “It is not known whether the shoe belonged to a man or woman,” said lead author of the research, Dr Ron Pinhasi, University College Cork, Cork,  “as while small (European size 37; US size 7 women), the shoe could well have fitted a man from that era.”  The cave is situated in the Vayotz Dzor province of Armenia, on the Armenian, Iranian, Nakhichevanian and Turkish borders, and was known to regional archaeologists due to its

visibility from the highway below.  The stable, cool and dry conditions in the cave resulted in exceptional preservation of the various objects that were found, which included large containers, many of which held well-preserved wheat and barley, apricots and other edible plants.   The preservation was also helped by the fact that the floor of the cave was covered by a thick layer of sheep dung which acted as a solid seal over the objects, preserving them beautifully over the millennia!   “We thought initially that the shoe and other objects were about 600-700 years old because they were in such good condition,” said Dr Pinhasi.  “It was only when the material was dated by the two radiocarbon laboratories in Oxford, UK, and in California, US that we realised that the shoe was older by a few hundred years than the shoes worn by Ötzi, the Iceman.”   Three samples were taken in order to determine the absolute age of the shoe and all three tests produced the same results. The archaeologists cut two small strips of leather off the shoe and sent one strip to the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit at the University of Oxford and another to the University of California –Irvine Accelerator Mass Spectrometry Facility. A piece of grass from the shoe was also sent to Oxford to be dated and both shoe and grass were shown to be the same age. The shoe was discovered by Armenian PhD student, Ms Diana Zardaryan, of the Institute of Archaeology, Armenia, in a pit that also included a broken pot and wild goat horns.  “I was amazed to find that even the shoe-laces were preserved,” she recalled.  “We couldn’t believe the discovery,” said Dr Gregory Areshian, Cotsen Institute of Archaeology  at UCLA, US, co-director who was at the site with Mr Boris Gasparyan, co-director, Institute of

Archaeology, Armenia when the shoe was found.  “The crusts had sealed the artefacts and archaeological deposits and artefacts remained fresh dried, just like they were put in a can,” he said. The oldest known footwear in the world, to the present time, are sandals, made of plant material, that were found in a cave in the Arnold Research Cave in Missouri in the US. Other contemporaneous sandals were found in the Cave of the Warrior, Judean Desert, Israel, but these were not directly dated, so that their age is based on various other associated artefacts found in the cave. Interestingly, the shoe is very similar to the ‘pampooties’ worn on the Aran Islands (in the West of Ireland) up to the 1950s.  “In fact, enormous similarities exist between the manufacturing technique and style of this shoe and those found across Europe at later periods, suggesting that this type of shoe was worn for thousands of years across a large and environmentally diverse region,” said Dr Pinhasi.  “We do not know yet what the shoe or other objects were doing in the cave or what the purpose of the cave was,” said Dr Pinhasi.  “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 many chambers of the cave. The team involved in the dig included;  lead author and

co-director, Dr Ron Pinhasi, Archaeology Department,  University College Cork, Cork; Mr Boris Gasparian, co-director and Ms Diana Zardaryan  of  the Institute of Archaeology and Enthography, National Academy of Sciences, Republic of Armenia;  Dr Gregory Areshian, co-director, Research Associate at the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, University of California, US;  Dr Alexia Smith, Department of Anthropology of the University of Connecticut, US,   Dr Guy Bar-Oz , Zinman Institute of Archaeology,  University of Haifa, Israel and Dr Thomas Higham, Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit,  University of Oxford, UK. The research received funding from the National Geographic Society, the Chitjian Foundation (Los Angeles) US, Mr Joe Gfoeller of the Gfoeller Foundation, US, the Steinmetz Family Foundation, US, the Boochever Foundation, US, and the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, UCLA, US.  – College of Arts, Celtic Studies and Social Sciences Archaeology. UCC ARCHAEOLOGY 1909–2010 Excellence in Teaching and Research. Archaeology is an exciting subject that has great popular and academic appeal, and offers many career opportunities both in Ireland and abroad. This website will introduce you to the Department of Archaeology in UCC, a leading university in Ireland. There is information on our teaching programmes, our research projects and our involvement with the archaeological profession and the wider public. UCC has been a centre for the study of Archaeology since the first professor, Sir Bertram Windle, was appointed in 1908. The Department has grown steadily over the past century,

acquiring a reputation for excellence in teaching and research. Our research strengths include physical anthropology and bioarchaeology, architectural heritage, prehistory and early medieval studies. The Department is known for innovative fieldwork, going back to Professor Sean P. Ó Riordáin’s work at Lough Gur and Professor Michael O’Kelly’s excavation of Newgrange and other major sites in Ireland. The Department trains archaeologists at both undergraduate and postgraduate level, offering stimulating courses on a wide range of periods and subjects. The aim is to provide students with an understanding of the discipline of archaeology and the skills necessary to develop a career in Archaeology. The study of Archaeology offers life-long learning opportunities that can be a source of great personal enrichment as the individual acquires a deeper appreciation of their cultural heritage at a local, national and European level. As well as teaching and research, the Department also engages with the wider public in the Munster region through the provision of adult education courses and information on local archaeology. Support is also offered to the archaeological profession in Ireland and the Department contributes to debate and research on a range of cultural heritage issues. Please contact us if you have any queries in relation to our teaching programmes, research or community services. University College Cork news from:

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