The world's oldest leather shoe, 1,000 years older than the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt and 400 years older than Stonehenge in Britain, has been found perfectly preserved in a cave in Armenia.
The 5,500-year-old shoe was discovered by a team of international archaeologists, who reported details of their finding on Wednesday. It is made of a single piece of cow-hide leather, had laces, and was shaped to fit the wearer's foot.
It is 24.5 cm long, 7.6 cm to 10 cm wide, and dates back to around 3,500 BC, an era known as the Chalcolithic period.
"It is not known whether the shoe belonged to a man or woman," said Ron Pinhasi of University College Cork in Ireland, who led the research team. He said while it was small, matching a modern-day European size 37 or U.S. size 7, the shoe "could well have fitted a man from that era."
The cave where the discovery was made is in the Vayotz Dzor province of Armenia, on the Armenian-Iranian-Turkish borders.
Pinhasi said the stable, cool and dry conditions in the cave meant the various objects found there were very well preserved.
Other finds included large ceramic containers, many of which held wheat, barley, apricots and other edible plants.
The team said preservation was also helped by the fact that the floor of the cave was covered by a thick layer of sheep dung which acted as a solid seal over the objects, keeping them safe for several millennia.
The shoe was found in 2008 by Armenian PhD student Diana Zardaryan of the country's Institute of Archaeology, in a pit that also included a broken pot and sheep's horns.
"I was amazed to find that even the shoe-laces were preserved," she said in the report of the find, which was published in the Public Library of Science journal PLoS One.
Scientists in radiocarbon laboratories in California and in Oxford, England, have been working since 2008 to try to put an accurate date on the shoe.
The oldest known footwear in the world are sandals thought to be around 2,500 years older than the Armenian leather shoe. They were found in a cave in Missouri in the United States.