Europe’s potentially oldest pair of shoes was uncovered in a Spanish cave, and they are now believed to be significantly older than initially estimated by researchers.
Around 20 of these sandals are estimated to be at least 6,200 years old, if not older. Additionally, a recent scientific study revealed that other woven artifacts in the same cave date back a remarkable 9,500 years.
Measuring slightly over 8 inches in length — the sandals’ age was determined after researchers’ carbon-dating on 76 artifacts from the Cueva de los Murciélagos in Albuñol, near Granada. Miners had excavated these items in the 19th century.
Among these artifacts were baskets, the first direct testament to the weaving prowess of the Mesolithic hunter-gatherer communities in Southern Europe.
According to scientists, the artifacts, crafted from reed, wood, and esparto grass, originate from 9,500 to 6,200 years ago during the early to middle Holocene period.
Francisco Martínez Sevilla, an expert from the Prehistory Department of UAH, stated, as cited by British news outlet SWNS, “This represents the most ancient and extensive collection of prehistoric shoes, both within the Iberian Peninsula and across Europe.
He continued, “The intricate craftsmanship of the basketry challenges our previous underestimations about the sophistication of societies before agriculture emerged in Southern Europe.” Emphasizing the significance, he mentioned, “The ongoing project and these discoveries elevate Cueva de los Murciélagos as a prime European location for studying the organic remnants of prehistoric cultures.”
Cueva de los Murciélagos, translated as “Cave of the Bats,” is situated on the Granada coastline, south of the Sierra Nevada. It’s surmised that the artifacts were preserved impeccably due to the region’s low humidity. Located on the Barranco de las Angosturas’ right side, the cave stands 450 meters above sea level, roughly seven kilometers from today’s shoreline. Its unique preservation of organic items marks it as a standout prehistoric archeological site in the Iberian Peninsula, as highlighted by SWNS.
Maria Herrero Otal, co-author of the study, remarked, as reported by SWNS, “The esparto items from Cueva de los Murciélagos are unparalleled in age and preservation in Southern Europe. The variety in techniques and raw material processing underscores the proficiency of these ancient communities, evident since the Mesolithic era, about 9,500 years ago.”
She elaborated, “While one method has been linked to hunter-gatherers, the range and sophistication in esparto crafting expanded during the Neolithic era, between 7,200 to 6,200 years ago.” The BBC’s coverage of the research also echoed her sentiments on the adeptness of these prehistoric societies.
In comparison, a 5,500-year-old pair of leather shoes was found in an Armenian cave in 2008, while the UK’s oldest known shoe, belonging to a late Bronze Age toddler, is approximately 3,000 years old, found in north Kent. Globally, the oldest known shoes, roughly 10,000 years old, were uncovered in Fort Rock, Oregon, in 1938.