Archaeology in the News! OMG shoes.

Because this story was paraphrased (badly…) in an actual email at work, here’s the latest archaeological news! Let’s get some shoes.

The leather lace-up moccasin with straw padding was found in an Armenian cave and dates to 5,500 years ago.

The ultimate vintage shoe — a 5,500-year-old leather lace-up moccasin — has been found buried in sheep dung in a cave in Armenia on the Iranian and Turkish borders.

The cool, dry cave and the thick layer of sheep dung, which acted as a solid seal, kept the world’s oldest piece of leather footwear in perfect condition.

Designed a thousand years before the Great Pyramid of Giza, the soft-soled shoe was stuffed with loose, unfastened grass. The right-footed shoe (the left has not been discovered) is 24.5 cm long and 7.6 to 10 cm wide (9.6 by 2.9 to 3.9 inches) (U.S. size 7 women). It was probably worn by an early farmer living in the mountains of the Vayotz Dzor province.

“We were all amazed to see its state of preservation and the fine details such as the laces, eyelets and the straw inside it,” said Ron Pinhasi of Ireland’s University College Cork and lead author of the research published in PLoS One, a journal of the Public Library of Science.

“It is not known whether the shoe belonged to a man or woman. While small, the shoe could well have fitted a man from that era,” Pinhasi told Discovery News.

The archaeologists are also unsure whether the grass was used to keep the foot warm or to maintain the shape of the shoe like a modern shoe tree.

The moccasin-like footwear was simply created from a single piece of cow hide that was wrapped around the foot. A leather thong was used to stitch the back and top of the shoe through four and 15 sets of eyelets respectively.

The shoe might have been deliberately buried in the cave during a ritual. Indeed, the archaeologists also found three pots, each containing a child’s skull, along with containers of well preserved barley, wheat, apricot and other edible plants.

“We thought initially that the shoe and other objects were about 600-700 years old because they were in such good condition,” Pinhasi said. “It was only when the material was dated that we realized that the shoe was older by a few hundred years than the shoes worn by Oetzi, the Iceman,” he added, referring to Europe’s oldest natural human mummy, which dates back 5,300 years.

Pinhasi and colleagues cut two small strips of leather off the shoe and sent one strip to the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit at the University of Oxford and another to the University of California-Irvine Accelerator Mass Spectrometry Facility.

All three tests produced the same results, dating both shoe and grass to the Chalcolithic period, around 3,500 B.C.

The oldest known footwear in the world are 7,500-year-old sandals made from plant material found in a cave in the Arnold Research Cave in Missouri.

Prior to the Armenian discovery, it was Oetzi, the mummy found frozen in the Alps, who wore the oldest known leather shoes. However, only parts of the Iceman’s left and right footwear were recovered.

The mummy’s footwear included an inner “sock” made of grass, and a separate sole and upper made of deer and bear leather held together by a leather strap.

“We now known that people were wearing shoes already 5,500 years ago and that these were not so different from the ones we had until recent times,” Pinhasi said.

Indeed, the Chalcolithic shoe is very similar to the “pampooties” worn on the Aran Islands, in the West of Ireland, up to the 1950s.

“This suggests that shoes of this type were worn for millennia across a large and environmentally diverse geographic region,” Pinhasi said.

According to Andre Veldmeijer, a Dutch archaeologist who specializes in ancient leatherwork, footwear and cordage, the find is very interesting and an important.

“It clearly shows that footwear was common from the earliest times onwards. It would be interesting to know how the skin was processed into leather. Skin processing techniques not only indicate how familiar the people were with leather as a material, but might also inform us on the complexity of the society,” Veldmeijer told Discovery News.



Archaeology in the News: Covered in Bees

Because I like my archaeological discoveries like I like my coffee: covered in bees.

Ancient Beehives Yield 3,000-Year-Old Bees

Honeybee remains found in a 3,000-year-old apiary have given archaeologists a one-of-a-kind window into the beekeeping practices of the ancient world.

“Beekeeping is known only from a few Egyptian sources, from a few tombs and paintings. No actual hives have been found,” said Hebrew University of Jerusalem archaeologist Amihai Mazar.

The hives were uncovered in 2007 at an excavation in Tel Rehov, Israel, home to the flourishing Bronze and Iron Age city of Rehov. Mazar and his team found more than 100 hives, capable of housing an 1.5 million bees and producing half a ton of honey.

In a paper published June 8 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers analyzed bees preserved in honeycomb that was charred, but not completely burnt by fire that likely destroyed the rest of the apiary.

Unfortunately for would-be makers of ancient honey, heat damaged the bees’ DNA, making it impossible to revive their genes in modern bees. But the researchers were at least able to identify them as Apis mellifera anatoliaca, a subspecies found only in what is now Turkey. It’s possible that A. m. anatoliaca’s range has changed, but more likely that Rehov’s beekeepers traded for them.

Local bees are notoriously difficult to handle. During the 20th century, when beekeepers tried to establish a modern industry in Tel Rehov, they ended up importing A. m. anatoliaca — a literally sweet example of history repeating itself.

Image: Top, micrographs of a drone head and larva; bottom, micrographs of a workers’ head and thoracic flight muscles./PNAS.

Citation: “Industrial apiculture in the Jordan valley during Biblical times with Anatolian honey bees,” by Guy Bloch, Tiago Francoy, Ido Wachtel, Nava Panitz-Cohen, Stefan Fuchs, and Amihai Mazar. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Vol. 107 No. 23, June 8, 2010.




Greetings, gentle readers! This week we get to take a look at a very popular topic in history, popular culture and History Channel programming: END TIMES. I now present to you a humorous look at the various ways the world will end or, as my favorite beardy person calls it, eschatoLOLogy.


Aside from the fact that I will be having a killer party on Dec. 21, 2012, this ‘event’ if you will, seems to be monopolizing the programming on the History Channel. This may be because we’re now 2 years away from the fateful date in which something may or may not happen. Here’s the deal with 2012: The Mayans have this calendar called the Long Count calendar. This calendar is essentially a really long perpetual calendar, with the exception that the last date on it is December 21, 2012. This has led many, many, many people to think that the reason the calendar stops there is because that is the last day. Ever. There are no more days after that because something horrible and catastrophic happens, thus ending the need for days because there would be no one around to partake in them. The other option, of course, is that on this fateful day there is a great shift in human consciousness and we all awaken to our true metaphysical potential. Or, it could also herald the return of Quetzalcoatl! It’s good to have options. There’s also some internet mutterings about galactic alignments (because ancient Earthfolk could see and chart the orbits of all those planets past Jupiter, from the ground, with their eyes) and Black Roads (Xibalba be!) and even cataclysmic collisions. What most people tend to forget about this piece of Mayan culture is that 1) we still don’t fully understand how it works since there are a lack of Maya to talk to about it 2) the math correlating Mayan dates with Gregorian calendar dates is probably off 3) they may have just ran out of room. I mean, there really is so much space you can carve on a stone or rock, so you can’t always fit everything in. Feel free to draw your own conclusions about this matter but for the most part, those last three things are essentially my opinions on the matter. After that, it tends to get rather silly.

ODIN!!! Sorry, it happens when I encounter Norse things. This is one of my favorite options for teh end tiemz. The Norsefolk had a very particular mythology about what the end of the world and universe as they know it would be. Things begin with three consecutive winters in which there would be no summer and the Sun would essentially be useless. These winters will be proceeded by three earlier winters and great battles around the world. There will be greed, suffering, families turning against each other and all the usual things you would associate with society breaking down. Pestilence and famine are optional, of course. It’s about this time that the Sun is swallowed by a wolf followed by the moon and people will generally begin to panic. I mean, the Sun’s gone! The stars will disappear too, and on top of the cosmic issues there will be earthquakes, toppling trees and mountains which will result in the breaking of the restraints that have previously kept the Fenrir safely in place. Jörmungandr, the great world serpent, will begin to consume his own tail and there will be all sorts of seismic issues as the land and sea are smushed together. While all this is going on, Loki, who has been imprisoned beneath the earth being snake-poisoned for who knows how long, break free of his bonds and rolls up in a great ship made of human nails and crewed by the dead. Backing him up is Fenrir, spewing wolf fire, and Jörmungandr, spewing world serpent poison. Oh, and the sky splits. The sons of Muspell ride out of this rift and across Bifrost, the rainbow bridge connecting Asgard to the other realms and break the bridge as they do. Heimdallr, the herald of the Æsir, sees all this going down and signals the Æsir that yes, this is the final battle so everyone needs to get their rears in gear and get down to the great field of battle. Easily the best thing I’ve read about this part of the tale is, Yggdrasil shakes, and everything, everywhere fears.” The gods get ready and make sure everything is polished and sharpened and ready to go, since they’re all rocking mythical named weapons and pieces of armor. And then the party starts. Freyr fights Surtr but since he gave away his prized sword, he is defeated. Thor tackles Jörmungandr and eventually defeats the great serpent but, having been poisoned by the venom, manages to stagger only nine paces before falling down dead (NOOOOO!). Týr, the god who lost a hand to Fenris when the gods were originally restraining the great wolf, battles with terrible hound Garmr, aka ‘The Worst of All Monsters’, which results in the death of both of them. Fenrir swallows Odin (D:) but is almost immediately torn to pieces by Odin’s son Víðarr avenging his father’s death. Loki dukes it out with Heimdallr and the two kill each other. Surtr covers the world in fire (like you do) and all realms, human and otherwise, go up in flames. After a time, the seas eventually recede and the earth is covered with self-generating crops. Líf and Lífthrasir, two humans who managed to find shelter under Yggdrasil, emerge to find a new world and their descendants repopulate the world. With them are Baldr and Höðr, reborn along with Thor’s sons Móði and Magni who are all happy to see each other and spend time reminiscing about the good old days. The Sun will have a daughter who will follow in her father’s footsteps and everything will be happy and wonderful again as the world begins again. So, perhaps it’s best not to think of Ragnarök as the end of the world, but more like a giant cosmic ‘Restore’ so the world can begin a new phase of existence free from the negative elements of the previous period.

Of course, there are always other ways in which the world could end: