Fact or Fiction: Humans have been wearing shoes for only the last 500 years.

close up of pink and white tennis shoes while person is walking

Fiction! Humans have actually been wearing shoes of some sort for at least 40,000 years. Analysis of skeletons from Tiankyuan Cave in China showed changes in toe bones potentially associated with decreases in strain on the forefoot from not walking barefoot. No shoes from that time have been found, but the oldest proof of humans wearing shoes is visible in cave art discovered in Altamira Cave in Spain from roughly 13,000-15,000 years ago. These paintings, the first depiction of shoes in art, show hunters wearing animal hide and fur boots.

The oldest actual footwear discovered to date is from the Fort Rock Basin in Oregon. Preserved below a layer of volcanic ash, these sandals were carbon dated to between 9,200 and 10,500 years old (7000 to 8000 BCE). They are twined with sagebrush bark. Sophisticated shoes have been found dating to around 5,000 or 5,500 years ago (3000 to 3500 BCE). These shoes are made of one or more types of leather and tie with laces.

Shoes did not develop at one time and were probably created by multiple groups based on their specific environment and needs. Despite the early development of shoe wear, many ancient civilizations, including the Greeks, did not routinely use shoes. In fact, Alexander the Great conquered the world with barefoot armies. The Romans were the first to design separate shoes for the right and left foot, issuing these to their soldiers. Generally, shoes were made at home or by a cobbler as time went on, and there was no standardized sizing system until the 19th century.


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