In 2010 the world’s oldest leather shoe was found in the Areni 1 Cave in Armenia. The 5,500-year-old moccasin-like shoe was found exceptionally well preserved—thanks to a surfeit of sheep dung. As National Geographic (2010) reported, the shoe, as big as a current women’s size seven (U.S.), was likely tailor-made for the right foot of its owner, who could have been a man or a woman—not enough is known about Armenian feet of the era to say for sure.
Made from a single piece of cowhide—a technique that draws premium prices for modern shoes under the designation “whole cut”—the shoe is laced along seams at the front and back, with a leather cord.
Ron Pinhasi, co-director of the dig, from University College Cork in Ireland explained that the hide had been cut into two layers and tanned, which was probably quite a new technology. Shoes of this age are incredibly rare because leather and plant materials normally degrade very quickly. But in this case, the contents of a pit in the cave, dubbed Areni-1, had been sealed in by several layers of sheep dung, which accumulated in the cave after its Copper Age human inhabitants had gone.
Protecting the foot was probably one of the main reasons people started wearing shoes, and certainly, this seems to b e the case for the world’s oldest leather shoe.
Around the Armenian cave, “the terrain is very rugged, and there are many sharp stones and prickly bushes,” said University of California archaeologist and study co-author Gregory Areshian, who was partly funded by the National Geographic Society’s Committee for Research and Exploration.
Furthermore, shoes like this would have enabled people to cope with extremes of temperature in the region—up to 113°F (45°C) in the summer and below freezing in the winter—and to travel farther.
- Science Daily. World’s oldest leather shoe found in Armenia.
- National Geographic. World’s Oldest Leather Shoe Found—Stunningly Preserved.