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Early Humans Wore 'Shoes' 30,000 Years Ago

Date:
August 22, 2005
Source:
Washington University in St. Louis
Summary:
Our modern day Nikes and Reeboks are direct descendents of the first supportive footwear that new research suggests came into use in western Eurasia between 26,000 and 30,000 years ago. Erik Trinkaus, professor of anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis, derived those dates by analyzing anatomical evidence of early modern humans, which suggests a reduction in the strength of the smaller toes in Upper Paleolithic humans while there was little change in leg strength.

A 26,000 year-old early modern human, Dolni Vestonice 16 from the Czech Republic, showing the reduced strength of the bones of the lesser toes. It is one of three partial foot skeletons from Dolni Vestonice that shows the reduced lesser toe strength, all dating to about 26,000 years ago.
Credit: Photo Erik Trinkaus / Czech Academy of Sciences

Aug. 17, 2005 — Those high-tech, air-filled, light-as-a-feather sneakers on your feet are a far cry from the leather slabs our ancestors wore for protection and support.

Those high-tech, air-filled, light-as-a-feather sneakers on your feet are a far cry from the leather slabs our ancestors wore for protection and support.

But believe it or not, our modern day Nikes and Reeboks are direct descendents of the first supportive footwear that new research suggests came into use in western Eurasia between 26,000 and 30,000 years ago.

Erik Trinkaus, Ph.D., the Mary Tileston Hemenway Professor of Physical Anthropology, derived those dates by analyzing anatomical evidence of early modern humans, which suggests a reduction in the strength of the smaller toes in Upper Paleolithic humans while there was little change in leg strength.

His research was published in the July issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science.

Trinkaus argues that early humans living in far northern climates began to put insulation on their feet around 500,000 years ago. While archaeological evidence suggests that protective footwear was in use by at least the middle Upper Paleolithic in portions of Europe, the frequency of use and the actual mechanical protection provided by that footwear was unclear.

Use of protective footwear has been difficult to document because in most cases the footwear does not survive the test of time.

Lacking such physical evidence, Trinkaus analyzed the foot bones of western Eurasian Middle Paleolithic and middle Upper Paleolithic humans. In doing so, he found the anatomy of their feet began to change starting around 26,000 years ago.

"I discovered that the bones of the little toes of humans from that time frame were much less strongly built than those of their ancestors while their leg bones remained large and strong," Trinkaus said. "The most logical cause would be the introduction of supportive footwear."

During barefoot walking, the smaller toes flex for traction, keeping the toe bones strong. Supportive footwear lessens the roll of the little toes, thus weakening them.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Washington University in St. Louis. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Washington University in St. Louis. "Early Humans Wore 'Shoes' 30,000 Years Ago." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 22 August 2005. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/08/050821233037.htm>.
Washington University in St. Louis. (2005, August 22). Early Humans Wore 'Shoes' 30,000 Years Ago. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 21, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/08/050821233037.htm
Washington University in St. Louis. "Early Humans Wore 'Shoes' 30,000 Years Ago." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/08/050821233037.htm (accessed April 21, 2014).

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