New published research on a study conducted on the health of human feet found that prior to the invention of shoes our ancestors had healthier feet. Researchers at University of Witwatersrand, Johannesberg, South Africa compared skeletal remains of humans more than 2000 years old, with more than 180 modern humans from three different population groups (Sotho, Zulu and European). The aim of the study was to investigate the frequency of metatarsal bone pathologies in contemporary and habitually unshod pre-historic people in order to ascertain whether these frequencies are affected by variation in habitual behaviour, the wearing of footwear and/or exposure to modern substrates. Their findings support earlier human populations had marginally healthier feet with fewer metatarsal bone pathologies than modern groups of humans who wear shoes. The authors temper their conclusion by saying it remains unclear from an evolutionary perspective to what extent, if any, footwear and other environmental factors such as modern substrates have contributed to the emergence of common metatarsal pathological changes.
Zipfel B and Bergera L R 2007 Shod versus unshod: The emergence of forefoot pathology in modern humans? The Foot Volume 17, Issue 4, pp 205-213.