Martínez-Sevillaet al.,Sci. Adv

(CNN) -- A new analysis identified the oldest shoes ever discovered in Europe, according to a study published this week in the journal Science Advances.

The 22 woven sandals date back 6,000 years, according to a radiocarbon analysis found in the study led by researchers at the Autonomous University of Barcelona and the University of Alcalá in Spain.

Ancient footwear, along with Mesolithic baskets and other tools, was first discovered in 1857, when miners looted a cave in southern Spain. However, when the artifacts were first dated in the 1970s, they were identified as being about 1,000 years more recent than this latest analysis found.

The very dry conditions inside the cave were ideal for preserving perishable materials, the researchers said, and allowed for the preservation of a prehistoric burial site with partially mummified corpses, accompanied by baskets, wooden tools, sandals and other goods.

Baskets were also found in the cave. Martínez-Sevillaet al.,Sci. Adv

The objects are "the oldest and best preserved set of plant fiber materials known so far in southern Europe," María Herrero Otal, one of the authors of the study, said in a statement, adding that they demonstrate "the ability of prehistoric communities to master this type of craftsmanship."


When Spanish archaeologist Manuel de Góngora y Martínez visited the cave in 1867, 10 years after the looting, he gathered the remaining artifacts — including sandals — and gave them to museums in Madrid and Granada, where they have been examined by researchers, according to the study.

The sandals were made from herbs and other materials, including leather, lime and ramie, a type of natural fiber.

Using the descriptions provided by Góngora, the study hypothesizes that the bodies were buried wearing sandals.

Some sandals had clear signs of use, while others appeared to have never been worn, suggesting that some people had clothes made especially for their burial.

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The researchers also studied various baskets and other wooden artifacts from the collection. These objects "open up innovative perspectives on the complexity of early-middle Holocene populations in Europe," they said, adding that most of the knowledge from past societies is extracted from durable artifacts rather than perishable ones like baskets. The Holocene is the current geological epoch, which began 11,700 years ago.

Both the baskets and sandals suggest that the manufacturers had extensive knowledge of the plant resources of the local environment, as well as a high level of expertise, the researchers said.

"The quality and technological complexity of basketry makes us question the simplistic assumptions we had about human communities before the arrival of agriculture in southern Europe," Francisco Martínez Sevilla, one of the authors of the study, said in a statement.

The study also found that the objects were deposited at the site at two very different times during the Early and Middle Holocene eras. The first phase was related to hunter-gatherer populations of the early Holocene, and the second phase to farmers of the middle Holocene, the researchers said.