5,500-year-old leather shoe is oldest ever discoveredS

This shoe is so old that when the Great Pyramid was built, it had already been sitting in a cave for 1,000 years. And it's so well preserved that you can see a toe-print inside.

Found in Armenia, this 5,500 year old leather footwear is the oldest such shoe in the entire world. Made from a single piece of cow-hide, the shoe was custom made to fit its wearer's foot. Archaeologists aren't sure whether the shoe belonged to a man or a woman; it's the equivalent of a modern size 7 women's, but the smaller average stature of ancient people means such a shoe could easily have fit a man.

The cave presented a perfect set of conditions to preserve its contents, which besides the shoe also included large containers of wheat, barley, apricots, and various other foodstuffs. The cave's climate was dry and cool and remarkably unchanging over the millennia, but the secret ingredient in the preservation was sheep shit: the cave floor was completely covered in a thick layer of the manure, which sealed off its contents from outside disturbance.

5,500-year-old leather shoe is oldest ever discoveredS

So perfect was the preservation that the archaeologists originally guessed the shoe was only about 600 or 700 years old, and it was only after radiocarbon dating that they discovered they were off by about 5,000 years. The level of detail preserved is simply astonishing: ancient grass was found inside the shoe, which archaeologists speculate was either used as an ancient foot-warmer or as an equivalent of the modern shoe horn, making it easier for the wearer to slip the shoe on and off. Even its shoelaces are still in nearly pristine condition.

The shoe actually closely resembles that of a type of footwear - the wonderfully named "pampooties" - worn on the remote Aran Islands off the western coast of Ireland until the 1950s, a distance of over 2,500 miles and 5,500 years. That suggests the massive success of this shoe design, covering a huge, environmentally diverse region across Europe.

The archaeologists still aren't sure what culture the shoe comes from or what the cave was used for, as very little is known about this particular region during that period of prehistory. The archaeologists hope further excavation of the rest of the cave - which has already turned up some graves - will help them better understand the people who left this shoe behind.

[PLoS ONE]