Kate Ravilious: World’s Oldest Leather Shoe

The article below by Kate Ravilious, “World’s Oldest Leather Shoe Found—Stunningly Preserved“, was reported originally by the National geographic Daily News on June 9, 2010.  about the world’s oldest leather shoe discovered in Armenia. The discovery of the world’s oldest known leather shoe was funded by the National Geographic Society, the Chitjian Foundation (Los Angeles), and Joe Gfoeller of the Gfoeller Foundation, the Steinmetz Family Foundation, the Boochever Foundation, and the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology.

Kindly note that a number of photos and the video did not appear in the original National geographic report.


A Manolo Blahnik it isn’t.

Still, the world’s oldest known leather shoe, revealed Wednesday, struck one of the world’s best known shoe designers as shockingly au courant.

It is astonishing,” Blahnik said via email, “how much this shoe resembles a modern shoe!

Stuffed with grass, perhaps as an insulator or an early shoe tree, the 5,500-year-old moccasin-like shoe was found exceptionally well preserved—thanks to a surfeit of sheep dung—during a recent dig in an Armenian cave.

About as big as a current women’s size seven (U.S.), the shoe was likely tailor-made for the right foot of its owner, who could have been a man or a woman—not enough is known about Armenian feet of the era to say for sure.

oldest-leather-shoe-armenia_21449_600x450The world’s oldest known leather shoe (pictured) has been found in an Armenian cave, archaeologists say (Photo Source: Gregory Areshian & National Geographic Daily News).

Made from a single piece of cowhide—a technique that draws premium prices for modern shoes under the designation “whole cut”—the shoe is laced along seams at the front and back, with a leather cord.

Ron Pinhasi, co-director of the dig, from the University College Cork in Ireland, explains:

The hide had been cut into two layers and tanned, which was probably quite a new technology,” .

Yvette Worrall, a shoemaker for the Conker handmade-shoe company in the U.K., added:

I’d imagine the leather was wetted first and then cut and fitted around the foot, using the foot as a last [mold] to stitch it up there and then.”

The end result looks surprisingly familiar for something so ancient—and not just to Blahnik.

Shoe-Armenia-Excavation Team-UCLAA member of the research team at the excavation site in Armenia; the actual cave is situated in the Vayotz Dzor province of Armenia, on the Armenian, Iranian, Nakhichevanian and Turkish borders (Photo Source: GoodNews).

“It immediately struck me as very similar to a traditional form of Balkan footwear known as the opanke, which is still worn as a part of regional dress at festivals today,” said Elizabeth Semmelhack, a curator at the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto, Canada.

I thought, Wow, not so much has changed.”


Oldest Leather Shoe Shows Stunning Preservation

Radiocarbon dated to about 3500 B.C., during Armenia’s Copper Age, the prehistoric shoe is compressed in the heel and toe area, likely due to miles upon miles of walking. But the shoe is by no means worn out.

Shoes of this age are incredibly rare, because leather and plant materials normally degrade very quickly.

But in this case the contents of a pit in the cave, dubbed Areni-1, had been sealed in by several layers of sheep dung, which accumulated in the cave after its Copper Age human inhabitants had gone.

The cave environment kept it cool and dry, while the dung cemented the finds in,” said Pinhasi, lead author of the new study, published by the journal PLoS ONE Wednesday.

Details of the Leather shoe-Armenia

[Click to Enlarge] Close-up details of the leather shoe discovered in a cave in Armenia (Photo Source: GoodNews). The 5,500 year old (perfectly preserved) shoe, the oldest leather shoe of its type in the world, dates back to approx. 3,500 BC (Chalcolithic period). It was made of a single piece of leather and  shaped to fit the wearer’s foot. The shoe is 1,000 years older than Egypt’s Great Pyramid of Giza.

Why Was Oldest Leather Shoe Made?

Protecting the foot was probably one of the main reasons people started wearing shoes, and certainly this seems the case for the world’s oldest leather shoe.

Around the Armenian cave, “the terrain is very rugged, and there are many sharp stones and prickly bushes,” said University of California archaeologist and study co-author Gregory Areshian, who was partly funded by the National Geographic Society’s Committee for Research and Exploration. (The National Geographic Society owns National Geographic News.)

Furthermore, shoes like this would have enabled people to cope with extremes of temperature in the region—up to 113°F (45°C) in summer and below freezing in winter—and to travel farther.

These people were walking long distances. We have found obsidian in the cave, which came from at least 75 miles [120 kilometers] away,” he said.

Blahnik, the shoe designer, speculates that even this simple design was worn for style as well as substance.


The leather shoe hand-held by a researcher at the excavation site. As noted in the UCLA Asia Institute report, the Armenian leather shoe was a European size 37 or women’s size 7. As noted Dr Ron Pinhasi, University College Cork, Cork, “as while small (European size 37; US size 7 women), the shoe could well have fitted a man from that era.” The shoe was found stuffed with grass (Photo Source: UCLA Asia Institute).

The shoe’s function was obviously to protect the foot, but I am in no doubt that a certain appearance of a shoe meant belonging to a particular tribe,” said Blahnik, who knows a thing or two about expressing identity through attire. “I am sure it was part of the outfit which a specific tribe wore to distinguish their identity from another.”


Not the World’s Oldest Shoe

Previously, the oldest known closed-toe shoes were those belonging to Ötzi, the “Iceman” found in the Austrian Alps in 1991, who died around 5,300 years ago. (See “Iceman Wore Cattle, Sheep Hides; May Have Been a Herder.”)

Sandals meanwhile, have an even longer history, with the oldest specimens, dated to more than 7,000 years ago, discovered in the Arnold Research Cave in central Missouri.

The wearing of shoes, though, is almost certainly older than the oldest known shoes. For example, a weakening of small toe bones found in 40,000-year-old human fossils has been cited as evidence of the advent of shoes.

Compared to Ötzi’s shoes, the world’s oldest leather shoe is strictly bare-bones, according to Jacqui Wood, an independent archaeologist based in the U.K., who studied Ötzi’s shoes and who said the new study’s science is sound.

The Iceman’s shoe was in another league altogether,” Wood said. “Each base was made from brown bearskin; the side panels were deerskin; and inside was a bark-string net, which pulled tight around the footBy contrast, the Armenian shoe is the most basic of shoes and was probably made worldwide once people decided not to walk about in bare feet.” (See pictures of the Iceman.)

It’s true that similar shoes have been found at other sites and from other times, but study co-authors Pinhasi and Areshian think it’s plausible that the style originated in Armenia.

Pinhasi notes:

Many other inventions, such as wheel-thrown pottery, cuneiform writing, and wool production evolved in the ancient Near East…And so Armenia may give us the earliest clues to a ‘prototype’ shoe, which later spread to Europe“.

Rebecca Shawcross, a shoe historian at the Northampton Museums & Art Gallery in the U.K., said:

You can certainly make a case for this shoe [design] being a forerunner to the North American moccasin, which has gone on to be a popular shoe style, whose influences can be seen in shoes of today—deck shoes; soft, slipper-style shoes for men; and so on.”

The “Astonishingly modern” shoe has been preserved by sheep dung, dryness and stable temperatures of the Armenian cave in which it was discovered. This invention of the shoe allowed humans to better protect their feet over rough terrain, against extreme heat and cold and to travel over longer distances.

Beyond the World’s Oldest Leather Shoe

With the moccasin mystery largely solved, the study team has plenty more puzzles to solve in Areni-1.

Along with the shoe, the ancient sheep dung had sealed in the horns of a wild goat, bones of red deer, and an upside-down broken pot.

Pinhsi said:

It is a strange assortment of items…and I wouldn’t be surprised if they have some symbolic meaning“—a meaning that could be revealed as summer, and a new dig season, dawns at Areni-1.

Persian in use-Full cover-Print

Persian in Use: An Elementary Textbook of Language and Culture

Dr. Anousha Sedighi (Associate Professor of Persian and the coordinator of the Persian program at Portland State University) has recently published a book entitled:

Persian in Use: An Elementary Textbook of Language and Culture. Leiden University Press & University of Chicago Press (2015); LUP Textbooks, ISBN 9789087282172 | Page extent 400 | Format Paperback, Full color | Price $85 (€ 69.50); To order, please email Leiden University Press at:

Persian in use-Full cover-PrintThe textbook “Persian in Use” is a blind peer-reviewed elementary Persian language and culture textbook designed for first-year Persian language students at college level. The textbook is accompanied by an interactive companion website (click here…). Kindly also visit the Facebook page for Persian in Use (click here…).

Persian in Use offers a thematically organized and integrative approach to help students achieve proficiency in Persian language and culture. The book is organized around high-frequency topics and provides a clear set of communication goals for each lesson. Authentic materials include samples of literary texts, poems, plays, film scripts, and even pop songs.

Dr Anousha SedighiDr. Anousha Sedighi is Associate Professor of Persian and the coordinator of the Persian program at Portland State University. She has been teaching elementary Persian for more than a decade and serves as the current president of the American Association of Teachers of Persian. To read more, click here…


Second Farrokh Book translated by Taghe Bostan Publishers into Persian

Kaveh Farrokh’s second text, Shadows in the Desert: Ancient Persia at War-Персы: Армия великих царей-سایههای صحرا (April 2007; 320 pages; ISBN: 9781846031083; Osprey Publishing) is the first text to specifically outline the military history of ancient Iran from the bronze age to the end of the Sassanian era. This book was recently translated for the second time into Persian by Taghe Bostan publishing which is affiliated with The University of Kermanshah:

Shadows in the Desert-Taghe Bostan Publishers-3

Farrokh’s second text translated into Persian for the second time. This version was translated by Bahram Khozai and published in Iran by the -طاق بستان- Taghe-Bastan company on January 21, 2012 (01 بهمن، 1390).

The second translation of the book into Persian cited above is independent of the first Persian translation by Shahrbanu Saremi (entitled -سایههایی در بیابان: ایران باستان در زمان جنگ-) which appeared through  Qoqnoos Publishers in 2011.


Shadows in the Desert Ancient Persia at War – The first Persian translation by Qoqnoos Publishers with the English to Persian translation having been done by Shahrbanu Saremi (LEFT),  The original publication by Osprey Publishing (CENTER) the Farrokh text  translated  into Russian (consult the Russian EXMO Publishers website) (RIGHT).

The Tehran Times on July 4, 2011 as well as The Times of Iran (July 4, 2011) announced the first translation of Farrokh’s book into Persian by Qoqnoos Publishers with the final report on this made by the official Mehr News Agency of Iran on September, 24, 2011 (see also earlier report by Mehr News in Persian –ناگفته‌هایی از قدرت سپاهیان ایران باستان در «سایه‌های صحرا» بازگو شد-). This has also been reported in Press TVKhabar Farsi,  Balatarin and the official Iran Book News Association (IBNA-سايه‌هاي صحرا؛ ايران باستان در جنگ منتشر شد -) on September 28, 2011.

Frye and Farrokh
Meeting his mentors: Farrokh greets the late Professor Emeritus Richard Nelson Frye of Harvard University in march 2008 (shaking hands with Farrokh) and world-renowned Iranologist, Dr. Farhang Mehr (at center), winner of the 2010 Merit and Scholarship award (photo from Persian American Society,March 1, 2008).  As noted by Mafie, Professor Frye of Harvard University wrote the foreword of Farrokh’s text stating that “…Dr. Kaveh Farrokh has given us the Persian side of the picture as opposed to the Greek and Roman viewpoint …it is refreshing to see the other perspective, and Dr. Farrokh sheds light on many Persian institutions in this history…” (consult Mafie, 2010, p.2).

Below are a number of reviews of the text:

The Persian translation has been very well-received in Iran as indicated by the November 2011 newspaper clip below:

Page 52 of hashahri javan vol 335-2011
 [CLICK TO ENLARGE] Page 52 of Hamshahri newspaper, volume 335, November 17, 2011. The article in Persian by Ehsan Rezai reads “History as narrated by the Sword”.
Shadows in the Desert: Ancient Persia at War has been awarded with the Persian Golden Lioness Award by the WAALM Society in London as the “Best History Book of 2008” on October 31st 2008. This was reported by major media outlets such as the BBC, Iran’s equivalent of the New York Times, The Kayhan Newspaper (the Iranian equivalent of the New York Times) and the widely The Farrokh text was also nominated as one of three finalists for the 2008 Benjamin Franklin Awards by the Independent Book Publisher’s Association.

Excavations uncover Large Ancient gate in 2500 Year Old City of Persepolis in Iran

The report below by April Holloway regarding the excavation of a large ancient gate at Persepolis appeared in the Ancient Origins outlet (November 17, 2014). Reports of these findings also appeared in Mehr News.



A view of the 2500-year old city-palace of Persepolis in Iran (Ancient origins & Ivar Husevåg Døskeland)

Excavations at Persepolis, a magnificent palace complex in Iran founded by Darius the Great around 518 BC, have uncovered a great ancient gate in Tale-Ajori, within the Firouzi Complex.  Even older than Persepolis itself, Tale-Ajori lies 3,500 meters outside the city and is of great significance for understanding the Achaemenid Empire. The glazed bricks of the site reveal much about the mythology of the era, while the discovery of the new gate may shed new light on the role Tale-Ajori played within this ancient landscape.

According to Mehr News, the finding of the gate was made by a joint Iranian and Italian expedition team, who carried out excavations over the last two months in the area of the Firouzi Complex, which they believe was part of a city relevant to the royal seat in Persepolis. Tole-Ajori itself is an ovoid mound 80 meters (260 feet) long and 60 meters (200 feet) wide, and is believed to be the site of a single large building, although its original function is still unknown.


General sketch map of the structural architectural of Tale-Ajori (meaning ‘Bricks Hill’) (P. Callieri & S. Gondet; Ancient origins)

 Archaeologist Alireza Askari Chavardi told Mehr News:

The remains of Achaemenid ascendancy near Firouzi village has only gradually attracted interests of the archaeologists who studied the areas surrounding the royal seat to locate the Royal Sacred Place in the broader limits of the city for nearly 100 years”.

Through the combination of excavations and geophysical surveys, the research team has been trying to piece together the spatial layout across the 10 hectares of archaeological sites near Tale-Ajori, as well as the conceptual links between the royal construction and the surrounding buildings.

As noted further by Chavardi:

One of the most important sections of the region immediately leading to Persepolis is the north-western part of the royal seat which is also called Firouzi Complex, on where the studies conducted by archaeological expeditions have been focused, is where now lies the relics of a famous monument called Tale-Ajori


A section excavated at Tale-Ajori (meaning ‘Bricks Hill’). (; Ancient Origins)

Chavardi explains:

The most important findings of this season of excavations are 30 pieces of glazed bricks adorned with images of winged animals, incorporating mythic beasts of Elamite and Achaemenid eras in the tradition not unlike traditions of Shusha and Mesopotamia in south-western Iran…The outer parts and the great hall of the gate of this section of Parseh are decorated with colorfully glazed bricks, and thousands of pieces of bricks

Persepolis was founded by Darius the Great in 521 BC, and was the dynasty’s political and religious capital up to the decline of the empire in 331 BC.  It sits within a large urban landscape of Achaemenid palaces, monuments, and buildings extending across 600 hectares.  The wealth of the Persian empire was evident in all aspects of its construction. The splendor of Persepolis, however, was short-lived, as the palaces were looted and burned by Alexander in 331-330 B.C.


Reconstruction of the gardens and outside of the Palace of Darius I of Persia in Persepolis (Public Domain & Ancient origins).

Christopher I. Beckwith: Empires of the Silk Road

Readers are introduced to Professor Christopher I. Beckwith’s text: “Empires of the Silk Road: A History of Central Asia from the Bronze Age to the Present” (available on


  • Author: Christopher I. Beckwith
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Date: Reprinted in 2011
  • ISBN-10: 0691150346; ISBN-13: 978-0691150345

This book is recommended reading for Kaveh Farrokh’s Fall 2014 course “The Silk Route Origins and History“. Readers interested in the history of the Silk Route are also referred to the “Soghdian-Turkish Relations Symposium” (21-23 November, 2014) being held in Istanbul, Turkey (for brochure of conference, list of participants, etc., kindly click on images below to enlarge): Sogut_Program


Christopher I. Beckwith’s text provides a comprehensive history of Central Eurasia from antiquity to the current era. This is an excellent text that provides a critical analysis of the Empires of the Silk Road by analyzing the true origins and history of this critical region of Eurasia.


Statue of a foreigner holding a wineskin, Tang Dynasty (618-907) (Photo source: Public Domain).

Beckwith examines the history of the great and forgotten Central Eurasian empires, notably those of the Iranic peoples such as the Scythians, the Hsiang-Nou peoples (e.g. Attila the Hun, Turks, Mongols, etc.) and their interaction with China, Tibet and Persia.


One of the critical land bridges of the Silk Route: the Pamir Mountains which as a 2-way gigantic connector between the civilizations of the east and West (Photo source: Public Domain).

Beckwith outlines the scientific, artistic and economic impacts of Central Asia upon world civilization. Beckwith also tabulates the history of the Indo-European migrations out of Central Eurasia, and their admixture with several settled peoples, resulting in the great (Indo-European) civilizations of India, Persia, Greece and Rome. The impact of these peoples upon China is also examined.


Italian pottery of the 1450s influenced by Chinese ceramic arts; housed at the Louvre Museum, Paris (Photo source: Public Domain).

This is a book that has been long overdue: Empires of the Silk Road places Central Eurasia within the major framework of world history and civilization. It is perhaps this quote by Beckwith which demonstrates his acumen on the subject:

The dynamic, restless Proto-Indo-Europeans whose culture was born there [Eurasia] migrated across and discovered the Old World, mixing with the local peoples and founding the Classical civilizations of the Greeks and Romans, Iranians, Indians, and ChineseCentral Eurasians – not the Egyptians, Sumerians, and so on– are our ancestors. Central Eurasia is our homeland, the place where our civilization started” (2009, p.319).


Second century CE Kushan ceramic vase from Begram with a “Western” motif: a Greco-Roman gladiator (Photo source: Public Domain). The Silk Route challenges the fallacy of a so-called “Clash of Civilizations” – to the contrary, East and West have had extensive adaptive contacts since the dawn of history.