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‘Prehistoric footwear’ was discovered in Spanish cave by miners, scientists reveal in new study


What may have been the oldest pair of shoes in Europe were discovered in a cave in Spain and are now thought to be much older than scientists previously thought.

About 20 pairs of the sandals are at least 6,200 years old — and possibly older — while other woven objects in the cave are dated back 9,500 years, according to a new study by scientists.

The shoes measured around 20.5cm — or a little over 8 inches. 

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The news emerged after scientists used carbon-dating on 76 objects from the Cueva de los Murciélagos, Albuñol, near Granada, that had been dug out by miners in the 19th century.

Among the objects are baskets representing the first direct evidence of the skill in Mesolithic hunter-gatherer societies in Southern Europe.

baskets in a row

The baskets found in a cave in Spain by miners are made of wood, reed and esparto grass, said scientists. They are much older than previously believed. (SWNS)

The objects, made of wood, reed and esparto grass, date to the early and middle Holocene period, between 9,500 and 6,200 years ago, the scientists said.

The study about the finds from the Universidad de Alcalá (UAH) and the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB) was published in the journal Science Advances.

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Said Francisco Martínez Sevilla, a researcher at the Prehistory Department of UAH, “These are the earliest and widest-ranging assemblage of prehistoric footwear, both in the Iberian Peninsula and in Europe, unparalleled at other latitudes,” as SWNS, the British news service, reported.

The discovery is “a window of opportunity to understanding the last hunter-gatherer societies of the early Holocene.”

“The new dating of the esparto baskets from the Cueva de los Murciélagos of Albuñol opens a window of opportunity to understanding the last hunter-gatherer societies of the early Holocene.”

He added, “The quality and technological complexity of the basketry makes us question the simplistic assumptions we have about human communities prior to the arrival of agriculture in Southern Europe.”

shoes and other objects found in cave in Spain

This photo shows some of the organic-based objects — including a mallet and sandals — that were found in a bat cave in Spain. The objects were recovered at the Cueva de los Murciélagos in Andalucia, in Southern Spain, by miners in the 19th century. Scientists today have a new understanding of the objects’ ages. (SWNS)

He said the work and the project that’s being developed “[place] the Cueva de los Murciélagos as a unique site in Europe to study the organic materials of prehistoric populations.”

Cueva de los Murciélagos, or “Cave of the Bats,” is located on the coast of Granada, to the south of the Sierra Nevada.

It is believed the finds were well-preserved, thanks to the low humidity levels of the area.

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The bat cave opens on the right side of the Barranco de las Angosturas, at an altitude of 450 meters above sea level and about seven kilometers from the current coastline.

It is one of the most emblematic prehistoric archeological sites of the Iberian Peninsula due to the rare preservation of organic materials, SWNS also said.

cave in Spain

The latest understanding of the age of the materials dug out by miners in the 19th century was made after scientists used carbon-dating on 76 objects found in the Cueva de los Murciélagos, Albuñol, near Granada. (SWNS)

Study co-author María Herrero Otal said, “The esparto grass objects from Cueva de los Murciélagos are the oldest and best-preserved set of plant fibre materials in Southern Europe so far known,” as SWNS also noted.

“The technological diversity and the treatment of the raw material documented demonstrates the ability of prehistoric communities to master this type of craftsmanship, at least since 9,500 years ago, in the Mesolithic period.”

She added, “Only one type of technique related to hunter-gatherers has been identified, while the typological, technological and treatment range of esparto grass was extended during the Neolithic from 7,200 to 6,200 years before the present.”

“The technological diversity and the treatment of raw materials documented highlights the skill of prehistoric communities.”

She also said, “The technological diversity and the treatment of raw materials documented highlights the skill of prehistoric communities,” as the BBC reported of the study’s findings. 

A pair of 5,500-year-old leather shoes were discovered in a cave in Armenia back in 2008, while Britain’s oldest are said to be a 3,000-year-old, late-Bronze-Age toddler’s shoe in north Kent. 

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However, the oldest footwear in the world dating back approximately 10,000 years was found in Fort Rock, Oregon, back in 1938.

The Fort Rock Sandals, as they are known by researchers, are housed at the Museum of Natural and Cultural History at the University of Oregon in Eugene, according to the Bend Bulletin. They were made from sagebrush bark and other fibers.

The Fort Rock Sandals were found under a layer of volcanic ash that came from the Mount Mazama eruption 7,700 years ago, the same source indicated.

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