Sunday, June 27, 2010

If the shoe fits . . .

Recently the New York Times published a little story about a 5,500-year-old shoe found in an Armenian cave. Made of high quality leather, with leather laces crisscrossing through numerous eyelets, it resembles a modern soft-soled walking shoe. Scientists believe the shoe was for a woman’s right foot, approximately size 7. It had been worn. The archaeologists saw big toe imprints and some of the eyelets had been torn and repaired.

The huge Armenian cave where the shoe was found has yielded an abundance of artifacts from the “Copper Age” when humans are believed to have invented the wheel and domesticated horses, among other advances. The cave’s treasures include evidence of winemaking and caches of intentionally dried fruits (apricots, grapes and prunes). Archeologists believe the cave was used by high status people to store their community’s harvest and ritual objects.

Other leather shoes, which may be equally old, have been found in the Middle East but not yet dated. Previously, the oldest known leather shoes belonged to a mummified man found in the Alps near the Italian-Austrian border. His shoes had bearskin soles, deerskin panels, tree-bark netting and grass socks. They were a little younger than the Armenian shoe, only about 5,000 years old.

Sandals have an even longer history; the oldest known specimens, dated to more than 7,000 years ago were found in central Missouri. And another recent New York Times item noted that Mesoamericans, such as the Aztec and Maya, made sandals out of rubber beginning about 1,600 B.C.E. (about 3,600 years ago).

I believe my ancestor, who lived about 12,000 years ago in northern Spain (see posts for June 11 and June 22) had some kind of foot protection. Indeed, European Stone Age skeletons have been found to have unusually small toes – suggesting that footwear of some kind was used by 40,000 years ago.

These little tidbits of time -- souvenirs of pre-history -- help me begin to comprehend the vast scope of the human saga. Instead of my prior stereotypes of hulking, grunting primitives, far less intelligent than their modern descendents, I begin to envision a long, long line of ancestor Cinderellas, sipping wine and eating dried apricots. Not a bad occupation in any age.

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