Europe’s oldest shoes | Researchers find 6,000-year-old sandals in Spanish bat cave
Scientists said that the sandals found buried in a bat cave in southern Spain are likely to be the oldest footwear ever found in Europe, adding that they appeared to be 6,200 years old.
In an article published in Science Advances journal, a team examining the items said that the sandals, tools and baskets, which belonged to the 19th century, were found at a hunter-gatherer burial site in the Cueva de los Murciélagos, also known as “cave of the bats,” close the southern city of Granada. They added that after examining the items discovered, they were found to be much older than previously thought.
Radiocarbon dating was used by the study to date 76 items, which included 22 sandals and baskets made from esparto which is a type of grass used in crafts for thousands of years across North Africa and the Iberian Peninsula.
The grass was crushed by the ancient humans to make twine to braid sandals, bags and sandals. For 20 to 30 days, the grass was dried up before it was rehydrated for 24 hours to make it pliable, which is a skilled and complex process.
A similar type of sandals, which were estimated to be 5,500 years old, was found in Armenia, while the shoes used by “Ötzi the Iceman”, who was a prehistoric man known to live in Italy in 1991, date back to 5,300 years.
“The quality and technological complexity of the basketry makes us question the simplistic assumptions we have about human communities prior to the arrival of agriculture in southern Europe,” said Francisco Martinez Sevilla, the study's leader, in a press release.
Martinez Sevilla, who hails from the University of Alcala in Spain, stated that the Cueva de los Murcielagos was a “unique site in Europe to study the organic materials of prehistoric populations.”
Sandals with a single braid to be tied around the ankle
The sandals do not have any laces, but some have a single braid which is fixed to the middle and can be tied around the ankle of the wearer. Similar sandals were discovered across Europe in later periods, but they were made using other materials and not just grass.
“This sandal set therefore represents the earliest and widest-ranging assemblage of prehistoric footwear, both in the Iberian peninsula and in Europe, unparalleled at other latitudes,” stated the study.
The study added that in some of the sandals, there were marks present from being worn and others appeared unused and are likely to have been made for the dead. At a given point in time, the cave contained burial goods from a huge swath of early human history, with some being possibly 9,500 years old.
A team of 20 experts from various disciplines, including historians and geologists, worked on the ongoing project.