Recent studies have suggested that human beings may have worn shoes, or at least some type of footwear, far longer than previously assumed, potentially even since the Middle Stone Age, up to 150,000 years ago.
The research was published on the website of The University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg on October 27, 2023.
Until recently the oldest pair of shoes discovered in South Africa were 2,000 years old. However, scientists have uncovered trace fossils in three locations along South Africa’s Cape Coast which hint that humans living in the area wore some type of footwear far before.
Dr Bernhard Zipfel, of Wits' Evolutionary Studies Institute, one of the researchers in the study explained, "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."
Given that there are no known remains of such ancient footwear remaining since they were largely biodegradable, the researchers instead turned to Ichnology, the study of fossilized tracks and footprints.
Early humans wore flipflops on the beach
Using this approach Zipfel concluded that the shoes worn by ancient humans in this area were likely plakkies, a sort of flip-flop shoes, similar to those discovered to have been worn by the San people.
"It was important for these shoes to withstand environmental concerns," he explains.
"While our evidence is inconclusive, we are pleased with our discoveries nonetheless. We also contribute to the research about when humans wore shoes. This research has been few and far between. It is worth noting that the research findings strongly suggest that the region of southern Africa has been a hub for developing cognitive and practical abilities for an extended period," said Zipfel.