World’s Oldest Leather Shoe Found In Armenia

Finding a stylish and comfortable pair of shoes is quite a challenge nowadays, but finding a pair that would be both stylish, a good fit,  and last for a long period is even more challenging. Once you do find the perfect shoes, it seems hard to part with them, but, as we all know, everything in this world has a limited life span. Well, almost everything…

The life span of high-quality leather shoes can be increased if one takes proper care of the material. But, we must ask, increased by how much? Maybe by up to 50 years? A Century? A Millennium? How about 5,500 years? Yes, you read that correctly, because the world’s oldest leather shoe is 5,500 years old. It predates Stonehenge, is much older than the Egyptian pyramids and the shoe found on Ötzi the Iceman.

To say that this leather shoe is well preserved might not be sufficient to describe its condition, as it looks astonishingly good. In fact, it was in such good condition that the archaeologists who discovered it thought that the shoe could not be more than 700 years old. They initially thought that the shoe probably dated back to a later civilization, most likely the Mongol period, who used caves in the 14th century.

                                     The Areni-1 shoe. Authors: Pinhasi R, Gasparian B, Areshian G, Zardaryan D, Smith A CC BY 2.5

However, examining the material in the two radiocarbon laboratories in Oxford and California produced surprising results and proved that the primary assumptions made by the archaeologists were not even close to what the laboratories showed. It was stated that it was 5,637 to 5,387 years old and archaeologists who worked on the site in Armenia simply couldn’t believe that a shoe could be so ancient.

Up until the laboratories came up with the sensational results, the oldest closed-toe shoes were thought to be the ones discovered on Ötzi the Iceman, found by two hikers from Nuremberg in the Ötztal Alps in September 1991.

                                     Reconstruction of the neolithic clothes worn by Ötzi Author: Wolfgang Sauber CC BY-SA 3.0

The oldest leather shoe in the world was discovered in 2008 in the Areni-1 cave complex, near the Areni village in Armenia. It was not the only find discovered on the site: Very exciting and historically valuable artifacts were also discovered, including the oldest preserved human brain, seeds from nearly 40 types of fruits, cloth, metal knives, dried grapes, and the oldest winery in the world.

Considering the fact that the size of the leather shoe corresponds to a woman’s size 7 (European size 38, UK women’s size 5), it was most probably worn by a woman, but this cannot be claimed with 100 percent accuracy.

Compressed in the heel and toe area, the leather shoe apparently passed many miles before it was left in the cave complex, as co-author Gregory Areshian told National Geographic, “These people were walking long distances. We have found obsidian in the cave, which came from at least 75 miles [120 kilometers] away.”

Although leather degrades quickly, this was not the case with Areni-1, where the dry conditions and the floor of the cave being covered by several layers of sheep dung created the perfect environment for the preservation of the shoe.

Today, the world’s oldest leather shoe can be seen in the History Museum of Armenia, where it is one of the most exciting artifacts and is without a doubt the main object of attraction for both tourists and history buffs to visit.

Nevertheless, this is not the world’s oldest shoe: discovered in the Arnold Research Cave in Missouri in the United States, the sandals made from plant fibers pre-date the leather shoe found in the cave complex in Armenia by at least 2,000 years. And we thought nothing was superior to leather…


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