Thursday, June 17, 2010

Ancient shoe unearths footprints from the past

A perfectly preserved, 5,500-year-old shoe was discovered in a cave in Armenia by team that included UCLA archaeologists.An international team that includes eight researchers and students from UCLA’s Cotsen Institute of Archaeology has found a perfectly preserved, 5,500-year-old shoe in a cave in Armenia.

Believed to be the oldest leather shoe ever discovered, the find dates back to around 3,500 B.C. and was announced today (June 9) in the online scientific journal PLoS ONE.

“Generally, organic materials are poorly preserved in Middle Eastern archaeological sites because of the high content of salts and fungi in the soil and dramatic fluctuations in the temperatures and humidity in the weather,” said Gregory Areshian, a visiting associate professor at the Cotsen who was nearby when the discovery was made. “But the condition of this shoe is amazing.”

Made of a single piece of cowhide, the shoe was shaped to fit the wearer’s foot and was stuffed with grass. Archaeologists aren’t sure whether the grass was used as insulation or — as a possible precursor to the modern shoe tree — to maintain the shape of the shoe. They also don’t know whether the shoe — the equivalent of a European size 37 or an American women’s size 7 — belonged to a male or female.

Gregory Areshian, a visiting associate professor at the Cotsen, said the shoe was remarkably well-preserved.“While small, the shoe could well have fit a man from that era,” said Ron Pinhasi, the study’s lead author and a lecturer in archaeology at the University College Cork in Cork, Ireland.

The discovery was made in Armenia’s Vayotz Dzor province, on the country’s border with Iran and Turkey. The cave’s stable, cool and dry conditions are credited with the exceptional condition of the various objects that were found there, including 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.

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