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Saturday, July 4, 1998 Published at 06:18 GMT 07:18 UK

World: Americas

Foot fashion 6000 years BC

The shoes were preserved inside a dry cave

Shoes and sandals made of fibre and leather that were discovered 40 years ago in a cave in Midwestern USA have been found to be over 8,000 years old.

So, Professor Michael O'Brien, were they the height of fashion?
Many of the 35 shoes discovered are still in good condition and show that the people who wore them were just as fashion conscious as we are today.

These are some of the oldest shoes ever found in North America and in the world, but they wouldn't look out of place on city streets today.

[ image: The shoes would have been worn up to 8,000 years ago ...]
The shoes would have been worn up to 8,000 years ago ...
The shoes were worn by ancestors of Native Americans who lived in the same cave system for most of the past 11,000 years.

Professor Michael O'Brien of the University of Missouri, who has studied the shoes says that the extremely dry environment of the cave helped preserve them.

'You could wear them right now'

"They're certainly dry and descitated and have to be treated with care," he says, "but you could actually put some of those shoes on and wear them right now, they're in that good a condition."

Some of the later shoes are made of leather, but most are made of fibre from a local plant called rattlesnake master, so named because its leaves are supposed to contain a remedy for snakebite.

[ image: ... but they wouldn't look out of place on today's cat-walks]
... but they wouldn't look out of place on today's cat-walks
The fibres were twined, twisted and braided and made into slingbacks, mocassins, cup-heels, slip-ons and sandals.

Some of the sandals were held in place by fibers that criss-crossed the foot through side loops before being tied at the ankle.

Others have thick heels and soles that are padded with grass and are hardly used, whilst some are obviously well worn, with the imprint of the wearers toes inside the shoes and repaired holes on the sides.

A question of taste

But were they stylish?

"That's what everyone wants to know" says Professor O'Brien. "There's no decoration on them like coloured threads, but I guess they must have been quite stylish.

"My guess is that these shoes were made in certain styles and when the styles became dated, they used another."

So maybe there isn't anything quite so new in fashion after all.

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