The Japan Times, July 4, 1998
8,000-year-old shoes show footwear fashion is nothing new
WASHINGTON (Reuters) Ancient, 8,000-year-old shoes found in a Missouri cave show that footwear fashion is nothing new - and is in fact much older than anyone thought, scientists said Thursday.
High-tech dating show the shoes are at least 2,000 years older than previously believed.
Michael O'Brien of the University of Missouri and colleagues at Louisiana State University used an accelerator mass spectrometer to carbon-date the shoes. The same method was used by scientists to show the Shroud of Turin, which purports to show the image of Christ, was probably made in the 13th or 14th century.
The spectrometer can use just a tiny piece of material to date it - useful in something as rare and precious as an ancient Native American shoe or a holy relic.
It dated the oldest shoes at up to 8,300 years old, the researchers reported in the journal Science.
"I was surprised," O'Brien said. "I would have guessed 3,000 but not 8,000 ... I thought it was so outrageous that I took a second sample."
The shoes were found in a cave on a Missouri River bluff near Columbia about 40 years ago, but the relics in the cave were all jumbled up, making them hard to date.
However, they are very well-preserved and tell a lot about shoe fashions in prehistoric times.
"The shoes are complete, so all you have to do is look at them," O'Brien said. "You can certainly tell which foot they were on. You can feel toe impressions on the inside. They wore out in the same way ours do We have found repair holes on them."
Some were pointy-toed sandals, others were round-toed slip-one. "Some of them were round-cupped heels like on a bedroom slipper, others had sling-back heels like you find on women's shoes," O'Brien said.
Made of leather and a local fiber woven into rope, like modern-day espadrilles, the shoes prove that footwear fashions have truly endured the test of time, O'Brien said. "There's nothing new under the sun," he said. "Some of these shoes you would swear were made in a Mexican market."
More than 20 shoes were found in the cave, and the carbon dating shows they range in age from 945 years old to 8,000 years old.
"It's an extremely long sequence of dates from the same site and that makes it pretty interesting," O'Brien said.
They give a lot of insight into the people who lived in the cave over the ages. They left few other clues behind.
Based on spear points found in the cave, researchers determined they were first inhabited about 11,000 years ago, but there's not much else to go on.
"There's no clothing, a couple of bags, tons of spear points, animal bones from the things they ate - deer, squirrel, possum, seeds, that sort of stuff," he said.
ANALYSIS OF ancient shoes found in a Missouri cave reveals footwear fashion is nothing new. Shown here is a 27 cm slip-on with twined body and sole, rounded toe and a round-cupped heel. REUTERS PHOTO