World’s Oldest Leather Shoe Found in Armenian Cave

Archaeologists discover the 5550-year-old shoe in almost perfect condition

WASHINGTON  (AP)–About 5,500 years ago someone in the mountains of Armenia put his best foot forward in what is now the oldest leather shoe ever found.

It’ll never be confused with a penny loafer or a track shoe, but the well-preserved footwear was made of a single piece of leather, laced up the front and back, researchers reported Wednesday in PLoS One, a journal of the Public Library of Science.

Worn and shaped by the wearer’s right foot, the shoe was found in a cave along with other evidence of human occupation. The shoe had been stuffed with grass, which dated to the same time as the leather of the shoe _ between 5,637 and 5,387 years ago.

“This is great luck,” enthused archaeologist Ron Pinhasi of University College Cork in Cork, Ireland, who led the research team.

“We normally only find broken pots, but we have very little information about the day-to-day activity” of these ancient people. “What did they eat? What did they do? What did they wear? This is a chance to see this … it gives us a real glimpse into society,” he said in a telephone interview.

Previously the oldest leather shoe discovered in Europe or Asia was on the famous Otzi, the “Iceman” found frozen in the Alps a few years ago and now preserved in Italy. Otzi has been dated to 5,375 and 5,128 years ago, a few hundred years more recent than the Armenian shoe.

Otzi’s shoes were made of deer and bear leather held together by a leather strap. The Armenian shoe appears to be made of cowhide, Pinhasi said.

Older sandals have been found in a cave in Missouri, but those were made of fiber rather than leather.

The shoe found in what is now Armenia was found in a pit, along with a broken pot and some wild goat horns.

But Pinhasi doesn’t think it was thrown away. There was discarded material that had been tossed outside the cave, while this pit was inside in the living area. And while the shoe had been worn, it wasn’t worn out.

It’s not clear if the grass that filled the shoe was intended as a lining or insulation, or to maintain the shape of the shoe when it was stored, according to the researchers.

The Armenian shoe was small by current standards _ European size 37 or U.S. women’s size 7 _ but might have fit a man of that era, according to Pinhasi.

He described the shoe as a single piece of leather cut to fit the foot. The back of the shoe was closed by a lace passing through four sets of eyelets. In the front, 15 pairs of eyelets were used to lace from toe to top.

There was no reinforcement in the sole, just the one layer of soft leather. “I don’t know how long it would last in rocky terrain,” Pinhasi said.

He noted that the shoe is similar to a type of footwear common in the Aran Islands, west of Ireland, up until the 1950s. The Irish version, known as “pampooties” reportedly didn’t last long, he said.

“In fact, enormous similarities exist between the manufacturing technique and style of this (Armenian) 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,” Pinhasi said.

While the Armenian shoe was soft when unearthed, the leather has begun to harden now that it is exposed to air, Pinhasi said.

Oh, and unlike a lot of very old shoes, it didn’t smell.

Pinhasi said the shoe is currently at the Institute of Archaeology in Yerevan, but he hopes it will be sent to laboratories in either Switzerland or Germany where it can be treated for preservation and then returned to Armenia for display in a museum.

Pinhasi, meanwhile, is heading back to Armenia this week, hoping the other shoe will drop.

The research was funded by the National Geographic Society, the Chitjian Foundation, the Gfoeller Foundation, the Steinmetz Family Foundation, the Boochever Foundation and the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology at UCLA.

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22 Comments

  1. scott sibley said:

    The shoe could have been stuffed with dry grass to help it dry and keep its shape. I use newspaper to dry the moisture out of leather and to keep its shape. I use to live in an Eskimo village in Alaska and the people used dry grass as an insulation in their mukluks.

  2. Christo said:

    It’s interesting, they refer to the location of the “shoe” as “what is now Armenia”. Why is it that occupied Asia Minor is always referred to as turkey???
    Maybe AP thinks that this was a turanian shoe, from the altay mountains, and today the area is called Armenia! Hey maybe it might be Alp Arslans shoe, maybe he and the 400 families that were running scared from Genghis Khan hid in that cave, and he lost his shoe? I know, you’re about to remind me that this shoe is over 5000 years old and Alp Arslan wasn’t around, but give me a break I’m rewriting turanian history.
    I bet Ilham is going to claim that the grass is from the Altay mountains, and that the style is turanian, and the grey wolves are going to say there are traces of wolf dung on the bottom of the shoe.
    If there are enormous similarities between this “shoe” and shoes all over europe, could we it be deducted that our Armenian ancestors migrated west and brought civilization to the Neanderthals living in Europe?

  3. Weha said:

    It is interesting to find this old shoe. According to history, shoes were only made one way. There was no left or right side until after the Civil War. Wow, I can’t imagine having to wear shoes like that; I already had weird enough feet (Paws).
    I always say, what was there before toilet paper? What was there before underwear? Imagine? Human beings were creative, eh?

  4. john papazian said:

    Bob and Tom in the morning didn’t even try to have fun with this one.Mr. Kovoian should not be so afraid of telling a rather large audiance whats what,or maybe managment won’t let him.

  5. Nairian said:

    Christo, your last paragraph isn’t far fetched. The British migrated from Armenia and it is written in their manuscripts. I read it right here on the web about a year or two ago. It is true indeed.

  6. Arto said:

    The shoe shown is almost as old as the one shown in the background.

  7. Christo said:

    Yeah, I know Nairian, remember when Ani fell, they were buidling castles out of tree logs.

  8. Satenik said:

    Yes, Arto quite! but I don’t think that it will last as long…….
    Your comment did put a smile on my face. Thank you considering it’s past 1.30 a.m.in the U.K.

  9. Avetis said:

    I bet you all ‘Davajan Serjik’ will steal this shoe and sell it to the Turks along with Karabakh and Armenia. Trust me, I know what I talking about, I long time am ARF member.

  10. Levon said:

    I’m still waiting for them to discover the oldest known pair of Adidas sweatpants somewhere close to where they found the leather shoe… on a serious note though, this futher validates what many of us have known for a long time, that Armenia is one of the oldest if not the oldest cradle of civilization in the world. That and even back then we were ahead of Europe when it came to style.

  11. Arto T. said:

    They only found one and it all makes sense. This must be Noah’s wife’s shoe who threw it at her husband after she found out the animals were coming along too.

  12. Random Armenian said:

    Christo,

    The deduction you propose would be a big assumption on a shoe from 5500 years ago. Groups of people have migrated all over the place over millennia. If the makers of this shoe were our ancestors, they can easily be the ancestor of several groups who have since diverged from a common stock. Maybe this style of shoemaking spread East from West rather than Armenia out to the West. This shoe is a single data point which states that 5500 people living in this spot wore shoes of this design and I doubt is says anything about where these types of shoes originated. One needs more data. Some DNA of the owner would be good to have as well. Note: I’m no archaeologist but I do have some exposure to science and a big fan of the scientific process.

    Neanderthals were long gone by the time this shoe was made. But I’m guessing you meant that as an insult rather than actual Neanderthals.

    I like Arto T.’s humor :)

  13. Narbeh Nazarian said:

    VIVA ARMENIA , VIVA OUR HISTORY… & VIVA after the bibical flood until 1915 — 1915 until NOW…

  14. Tamar Chahinian said:

    No wonder Armenians have always been experts in the shoe making business…

  15. Rob said:

    I have five teen-aged children. When they take off their sneakers i know what you mean when you say
    “Oh, and unlike a lot of very old shoes, it didn’t smell.” LOL

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