for National Geographic News
Humans were wearing shoes at least 10,000 years earlier than previously thought, according to a new study.
The evidence comes from a 40,000-year-old human fossil with delicate toe bones indicative of habitual shoe-wearing, experts say.
A previous study of anatomical changes in toe bone structure had dated the use of shoes to about 30,000 years ago.
Now the dainty-toed fossil from China suggests that at least some humans were sporting protective footwear 10,000 years further back, during a time when both modern humans and Neandertals occupied portions of Europe and Asia.
(Related: Atlas of the Human Journey)
Study author Erik Trinkaus, a paleoanthropologist at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, said the scarcity of toe bone fossils makes it hard to determine when habitual shoe-wearing became widespread.
However, he noted, even Neandertals may have been strapping on sandals.
"Earlier humans, including Neanderthals, show [some] evidence of occasionally wearing shoes," Trinkaus said.
Regular shoe use may have become common by 40,000 years ago, but "we still have no [additional] evidence from that time periodone way or the other," the scientist said.
The study by Trinkaus and Chinese co-author Hong Shang appears in the July issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science.
Tale of the Toes
In a previous study, Trinkaus found that shoe-wearing and barefoot human groups show characteristic differences in the size and strength of their middle toe bones.
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