Highlights from the 2014 LA Auto Show

Moccasins - the height of fashion for more than five millennia

By

June 16, 2010

The 5,500 year old leather shoe discovered in Areni-1 in Armenia

The 5,500 year old leather shoe discovered in Areni-1 in Armenia

Image Gallery (3 images)

Although most fashion changes with the seasons, there are some that have stood the test of time - denim jeans, the little black dress, purple crushed velvet bell-bottoms. But there is one item of clothing whose longevity outshines all of these – the humble moccasin. In 2008 an international team of archaeologists discovered a well preserved and complete leather shoe that was dated at around 5,500 years old – that’s one thousand years older than the Great Pyramid of Giza and around the time it's thought the wheel first began to be used in Mesopotamia.

The leather shoe measured 24.5 cm long, 7.6 to 10 cm wide and was made from a single piece of leather that wrapped around the wearer’s foot. The shoe was worn and shaped to the wearer’s right foot, particularly around the heel and big toe where the highest pressure is exerted in normal gait. Thanks to the cool, dry conditions of the sheep dung-lined Armeni-1 cave in Armenia where it was found the shoe was so well preserved that the archeologists initially thought it was just 600 or 700 years old.

The shoe was stuffed with loose, unfastened grass (Poaceae), which may have been used to maintain the shape of the shoe and/or prepare it for storage – although the owner of the shoe probably didn’t plan on storing it for over 5,000 years.

Dating the shoe

To date the shoe two leather samples and one grass sample from the shoe were dated at the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit (ORAU), while a third leather sample was dated at the University of California-Irvine Accelerator Mass Spectrometry Facility (UCIAMS). The R_Combine function for the three leather samples provides a date range of 3627–3377 Cal BC (95.4% confidence interval) and the calibrated range for the straw is contemporaneous (3627–3377 Cal BC).

This provides solid evidence of the use of footwear among Old World populations since at least the Chalcolithic period. Also known as the Copper Age, this was when the use of early metal tools started to appear alongside the use of stone tools.

Old, older, oldest

Prior to the shoe’s discovery, the earliest known shoe in Eurasia was worn by Ötzi, the Iceman, who has been dated to 3365–3118 BC. However, various older sandals, moccasins and slip-on footwear have been recovered from Arnold Research Cave, Missouri. There the earliest specimens are sandals made from fiber and/or leather, the oldest of which are around 7,500 years old, predating any footwear recovered in the Old World.

More than coincidence?

The archaeologists say that the fact that enormous similarities exist between the manufacturing technique and style of one-piece leather-hide shoes found across Europe and the one from Areni-1 Cave, suggest that shoes of this type were worn for millennia across a large and environmentally diverse geographic region. Given the simplicity of these shoes, it is possible that the design and technology of the shoe was independently invented in various locations across Europe and Southwest Asia. 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.

Although the shoe from Areni-1 is the oldest of its type and also the oldest shoe from Eurasia, given the rarity of such finds it is impossible at this stage to assess when and where the first footwear of this type was first developed. It is likely, however, that the earliest footwear predates the Areni-1 shoe significantly. My money’s on a pair of platform shoes with a goldfish inside worn by cave-women being unearthed in an archaeological dig very soon.

A paper describing the Areni-1 shoe, "First Direct Evidence of Chalcolithic Footwear from the Near Eastern Highlands," appears in the journal PLoS ONE.

Via Scientific American

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag.   All articles by Darren Quick
Tags
7 Comments

What's more amazing is that shoes remained so primitive until about three hundred years ago. The concept of shaping the shoe to fit the foot is quite recent, and of course, has still not been applied to women's shoes.

Iman Azol
17th June, 2010 @ 06:45 am PDT

What do you mean by BC? Before common era is BCE.

Jerry Zaski
17th June, 2010 @ 08:11 am PDT

B.C. 'Before Christ'. The year selected as the beginning of our current calendar.

A.D. 'Anno Domini'. The "Year of Our Lord", used to designate the years following the birth of Jesus.

BCE is a recent development, imposed upon historical documents by the 'politically correct'.

heldmyw
17th June, 2010 @ 10:44 am PDT

Far from primitive, these moccasins are the height of technology when the surfaces trod upon are considered.

The leather is durable yet breathes, and with heat and pressure conforms perfectly to the foot inside.

Granted the lacing is a bit cumbersome. Perhaps the ancients would have welcomed some Velcro !

Modern shoes were invented to deal with modern surfaces - Asphalt, concrete, tile.

SalemCat
21st June, 2010 @ 12:04 pm PDT

Moccasins may still be in style, however shoes have most definitely come along way! All things considering, these shoes were pretty ahead of their time. Check out some of the shoes featured in this article dating back to 8000 B.C. http://www.become.com/resource-center/infographic/shoes.html - I'm glad new technology has allowed progress in the advancement of shoes.

Christina Moore
27th September, 2010 @ 01:49 pm PDT

" that's one thousand years older than the Great Pyramid of Giza"

Whoaa! We have absolutely no idea how old the three Giza pyramids are, thus you can't possibly make a statement like that.

Valis
8th November, 2010 @ 08:06 am PST

When you work with leather, thong and grass/mosses, you don't need to fit the shoe to the foot--it'll do that the first few days.

And when the innards wear out, you pick some new ones, it you lose one or ruin one, you only have to replace one.

The style of this one, is one of the simplest, and quite likely to have been independently invented many times.

Unlike our wasteful use it & toss it culture, most previous cultures stayed with what worked--style is a concept for people with too much to eat and enough strangers around to impress... civilized.

Today, almost people seem to care more about how their clothing looks than if it works at all...appearance is everything when finding a mate--even if the appearance is detrimental to your health and daily life.

Take the heavy balck framed 'geek/nerd' glasses (someone please!) I spent my youth wearing such frames with thick lenses in order to see anything at all.

Now they are in 'style' and despite the fact that they improve nobody's appearance, I see them on the street and on TV--often with thick but non-correcting lenses.

Kinda like making a style out of leg braces & wheel chairs. What next? Stylish colonoscopy bags?

Charles Barnard
16th December, 2011 @ 09:41 am PST
Post a Comment

Login with your gizmag account:

Or Login with Facebook:


Related Articles
Looking for something? Search our 29,546 articles
Recent popular articles in Science
Comparison Reviews