Everyone needs to have a dream, and when someone’s dream comes true, we all vicariously share in the thrill. That’s why I couldn’t help but get a little choked up recently when I read that Diana Zardaryan, an Armenian doctoral student, had fulfilled her lifelong ambition. “To find a shoe has always been my dream,” she told NYTimes.com.
The shoe Ms. Zardaryan and her colleagues found was not in an outlet store, but in a cave near the border Armenia shares with Iran. Radiocarbon dating pegs the shoe’s age at around 5,600 years, making it the world’s oldest known leather shoe. It is a single piece of cowhide, split down the middle, laced along the seams, and tanned with some kind of vegetable oil.
Careful measurements by the archaeological team establish that it is a women’s size 7 (U.S.), and was worn on a right foot. The left shoe is missing, but this does not necessarily give credence to the story of Cinderella. The shoe is stuffed with grass, which the scientists speculate may have been insulation, or an early form of shoe tree.
If you care to read the study team’s report, it can be found at the website of the Public Library of Science, PLoS One. A preview of the coma-inducing prose you’ll find there is the title of the piece, which is “First Direct Evidence of Chalcolithic Footwear from the Near Eastern Highlands”. The authors spell out the particulars of that shoe in excruciating detail, but don’t devote much attention to a couple of interesting sidelights from their find.
Noting that the shoe is remarkably well-preserved, the scientists mention in passing that it was found under a layer of hardened sheep dung that prevented the shoe from deteriorating. That seems like a household tip that should be published in an advice column, doesn’t it? “When putting items into long-term storage, encasing them in plastic or sheep dung will keep them almost like new!”
Another thing that caught my eye was how much junk the people who occupied that cave had accumulated. In fact, the scientists have only examined a small portion of the cave, but they speculate that the main area was used for storage, while very little of it was used for living. Just like 21st century homes, in other words.
In addition to the world’s oldest shoe, the inventory of stuff the ancients couldn’t bear to throw away includes some sort of winemaking equipment, a broken bowl, obsidian tools, three clay pots that contained human skulls, and a lot of back issues of National Geographic magazine.
Yes, I made up the National Geographic part. But you have some stashed away in your home, don’t you? And we all have shoes in our closets that have been there so long, they would only be attractive to scientists. Which makes me wonder… when archaeologists go through our stuff thousands of years from now, what do we have stored away that will make their dream come true?