Stone Age flip-flops

PhysOrg reports on Witwatersrand researchers who’ve found tracks left by prehistoric footwear – a pair of flip-flop sandals that go back at least 75,000 years, making them 69,000 years older than the oldest known shoes of Europe:

In South Africa, it was believed that before 2,000 years ago, people weren’t wearing shoes. But trace fossils from three paleosurfaces (surfaces of considerable antiquity) found on South Africa’s Cape Coast change that narrative. According to one of the researchers, Dr. Bernhard Zipfel, of Wits’ Evolutionary Studies Institute, the new evidence reveals that humans of the time wore some form of footwear to walk across the beach.

“We all assumed that people were habitually barefoot. However, the Southern Cape Coast had very sharp rocks at the time. It makes sense that people would use footwear to protect themselves. One hundred thousand years ago, an injury to the foot could have been fatal,” said Zipfel.

Ichnology helps search for evidence of footprints made by people wearing some foot covering. By analyzing these footprints, ichnologists can learn more about ancient human populations’ behavior, movement, and interactions.

Zipfel, who is also a podiatrist, believes that the type of shoes worn were plakkies, or what we know as flip flops. This is backed up by recent archaeological evidence of sandals worn by San people. “It was important for these shoes to withstand environmental concerns,” he explains.

The researchers cobbled together primitive footwear. Wearing these, they walked up and down the very same beaches these hominins trod. They walked in various conditions and could study their shod tracks in both wet and dry sand. The team could compare the actual tracksites (between 70,000 and 150,000 years in age) to their work through computerized images. “There were amazing correlations,” said Zipfel.

Their theory reveals at least three tracksites on the Cape South Coast that shod humans may have made.

[via Mr. Goodstein]