Nearly all footprints discovered in the caves of the Palaeolithic (when only the most primitive stone tools were discovered) Period, were from bare feet, which means people either left their footwear at cave entrances or went unshod. Despite many discoveries of shoes preserved by the unique conditions found in caves it is only in the last few years, anthropologists made a systematic effort to determine the antiquity and ancestry of the shoe.
Footwear appeared at the very end of the last Ice Age when temperatures were similar to today and herding became possible. The appearance of footwear happened in all parts of our prehistoric world as a spontaneous need to protect feet, determined by climatic change and other needs. Shoes went from rudimentary foot coverings, to a limited level of functionality, then eventually fashion.
The simple sandal for example has been discovered in many geographically remote situations where sharing designs would have been impossible. Surprisingly the earliest recorded shoe finds, have not come from Africa, or Europe but instead, North America. The oldest shoe exhibited is in Carson City, Nevada and forms part of the Spirit Cave Man find. The artefacts including skeletal remains date to 9,500 BCE. Shoes were made from animal hide and lined with bulrushes.
The well-preserved Oregon Sandal (circa 8000 BCE) was discovered in a Fort Rock cave. Unlike the Spirit Cave Man shoe, it was made from organic materials and the sole tightly woven with grass and shredded sagebrush bark twisted into ropes. The basic flip-flop sandal was held next to the foot with a tie string pulled through loops formed as an integral part of the sandal weave. From these finds it would appear basket making was well developed among early Oregon dwellers.
Remarkable shoe finds discovered in the Arnold Cave, Missouri had the artifacts dated between 6-7000 BCE. The footwear was tough, well-made shoes and a wide range of styles including sandals, moccasins and slip-ons. Some shoes had pointed toes and others were rounded. The oldest specimen was a woven sandal made from fibrous material and dated from about 6,400 BCE. The most recent, about 1,000 years old, was a deerskin moccasin, probably made for a child and the only shoe made in leather. The remainder were made with dried leaves plaited into cording then woven into a tough fabric and used as an upper, sole and quarters. The espadrilles were fabricated from a yucca-like plant, locally known as rattlesnake master. Wear marks were consistent with modern wear and many of the specimens showed signs of skilled repair. Many of the moccasins were cushioned with dried grass (bull rushes) insoles. Although people were known to wear jewellery, no decoration was found on the artefacts nor was there evidence of colouring.
This was certainly not the case in Anasazi finds dating between 3.900 – 700 BCE. The Ancient Ones or Anasazi people inhabited parts if Utah, Colorado Arizona and New Mexico. Shoe finds, the earliest dating between 3900-700 BCE, were sandals made from yucca fibres. Unlike other previous finds Anasazi shoes, incorporated colourful geometric patterns with elaborate manipulations of warp and weft. The earliest sandals had square heels and toes woven in a twining and wrapping technique. Ties were made from yucca leaves, yucca cordage, or, rarely, hide strips. Another distinctive feature of Anasazi sandals was the soles were woven differently from uppers and incorporated ridges with which to grasp the ground. Some examples were too small to fit human feet, even children a might suggest sample miniatures, dolls clothing or early ornaments.