Europe’s oldest shoes

The espadrille-type sandals were made of esparto grass, still used in Spain today ©: University of Alcala

Scientists believe that they have identified the oldest shoes ever found in Europe – a pair of intricately-woven sandals made of grass dating back more than 6,000 years.

The espadrille-type sandals were among a collection of items originally discovered in the 19th century in the Cueva de los Murciélagos (Cave of the Bats) in Southern Spain by miners extracting guano (bat droppings). Carbon dating analysis by a team of Spanish scientists now shows that the oldest items discovered are more than 9,000 years old and were created by hunter-gatherers during the Mesolithic period. They were preserved thanks to the very low humidity levels inside the cave.

The shoes, and also several cylindrical baskets found at the same time, were made from a fibre called esparto grass, which is still used in Spain today to make baskets and hats. Twisted or braided cords would have secured the sandals to the feet of the hunter-gatherers who wore them. The shoes are significantly older than the grass and leather footwear worn by Ötzi the Iceman, who lived about 5,000 years ago.

As well as the woven-grass objects, miners came across several mummified corpses and tools including a wooden hammer and digging sticks. Unfortunately, many of the discoveries were looted, sold or destroyed by the miners and local people.

Text: Alun Harvey


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