Humans Wore Shoes 40,000 Years Ago, Fossils Indicate

Scott Norris
for National Geographic News
July 1, 2008

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 period—one 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.

Continued on Next Page >>


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