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A woman's size four, it was made from a single piece of cured cowhide a thousand years before the Great Pyramid of Giza was built – and four hundred years earlier than the erection of Stonehenge. Amazingly, it is still in perfect condition – even including the laces – thanks to the stable, cool and dry conditions of the Armenian cave in which it was found. It would have fitted the foot of a woman today – although it may have been worn by a mann at the time, claim the researchers. The shoe was packed with grass, but it is unclear whether this was to keep the foot warm or to maintain the shape of the shoe, much like the modern shoe-tree.
Dr Ron Pinhasi, an archaeologist at the University College Cork, said: "It is an amazing find. We thought we were looking at something just a few hundred years old but it turns out to be oldest shoe ever found."
Other items discovered in the cave in the Vayotz Dzor province on the Iranian border included large containers, many of which held well-preserved wheat and barley, apricots and other edible plants. The floor was covered by a thick layer of sheep dung which acted as a solid seal over the objects, keeping them beautifully over thousands of years.
Dr Pinhasi, said: "It was only when the material was dated by the two radiocarbon laboratories in Oxford and California that we realised that the shoe was older by a few hundred years than the shoes worn by Otzi, the Iceman." Otzi lived about 5,300 years ago and his mummified remains were found in 1991 in the Otztal Alps, on the border between Austria and Italy.
For the latest discovery, found under a pot, the archaeologists cut two small strips of leather from it and sent one to Oxford University and the other to the University of California. A piece of grass from the shoe was also sent to Oxford to be dated and both shoe and grass were shown to be the same age.