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Updated: June 10, 2010 19:04 IST

World’s oldest leather shoe found

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World's oldest leather shoe, found at a cave in Armenia. Photo: PTI
PTI World's oldest leather shoe, found at a cave in Armenia. Photo: PTI

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, perhaps a precursor to the modern shoe-tree which is placed inside a shoe to preserve its shape.

A perfectly preserved 5,500-year-old leather shoe has been found by a team of international archaeologists in a cave in Armenia.

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, perhaps a precursor to the modern shoe-tree which is placed inside a shoe to preserve its shape.

“It is not known whether the shoe belonged to a man or woman,” said lead author of the research, Ron Pinhasi of the University College Cork, Ireland, “as while small, 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 various objects found, including large containers with well-preserved wheat and barley, apricots and other edible plants.

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,” Dr. Pinhasi said.

But after the material was dated by the two radiocarbon laboratories in Oxford, Britain, and California, U.S., it was found that the shoe was older, he said.

The shoe was discovered by Armenian doctoral student Diana Zardaryan of the Institute of Archaeology, Armenia, in a pit that also had a broken pot and wild goat horns. “I was amazed to find that even the shoe-laces were preserved,” she said.

The research received funding from the National Geographic Society, among others.

The findings were published online in PLoS ONE.

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