Shoes are made from natural materials like leather, animal hide and plant-based materials such as bark and fibres. In the right conditions, as in ice or peat, shoes and other items remain preserved.
Oldest leather shoes
The oldest shoes made from leather were found in Armenia and were approximately 5,500 years old. In the United States, shoes made from the bark of the sagebush (Artemisia tridentata) have been dated to around 10,000 years ago.
Not quite so old (only 5,300 years!), but still quite remarkable, are the shoes found on the body of Ötzi, the man preserved in the ice. These shoes provide proof that plant-based fibres were more important in Prehistory than archaeologists had previously realised.
The oldest shoe found in Scandinavia is the Jotunheimen shoe, which is between 3,100 and 3,800 years old.
The oldest shoe in the Netherlands was found preserved in the peat near Buinerveen in Drenthe. It was made from cowhide and dates from the New Stone Age, the Late Neolithicum. This simple type of shoe was still being worn in the Late Bronze Age. In the Iron Age, however, fashions became more elaborate. Based on these finds, it seems likely that the shoes worn by the hunebed builders were similar to those worn by Ötzi or the example found in Buinerveen.
In a paper published in 2012, researcher Erik Trinkaus put forward the idea that the bones in the little toes of Neanderthals became weaker as a result of wearing shoes. (TRINKHAUS, 2012) . This implies that shoes were already being worn in the Early Stone Age. In northern regions there are indications that people 500,000 years ago were already wearing socks made of animal skins.
TRINKHAUS, E., & H. SHANG, 2012. Anatomical Evidence for the Antiquity of Human Footwear: Tianyuan and Sunghir. Journal of Archaeological Science 35 (7): p.p. 1928–1933.
Text Nadine Lemmers
Translation Alun Harvey