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The Hidden History of Shoes. From Plakkies to Sneakers

The Hidden History of Shoes. From Plakkies to Sneakers

Shoes are more than just a fashion accessory. They are also a reflection of our culture, our identity, and our history. Shoes can tell us a lot about how humans have evolved and adapted to different environments and challenges over time. But when did humans start wearing shoes? And what kind of shoes did they wear?

Key Takeaways:

  • Humans wore shoes much earlier than previously thought in South Africa.
  • Shod tracks from ancient paleosurfaces show evidence of shoe-wearing.
  • Researchers used ichnology and computerised images to compare shod tracks.
  • Ancient humans wore plakkies or flip flops based on track shape and archaeological evidence.
  • Footwear use indicates cognitive and practical abilities of ancient humans.
  • South Africa was a hub for developing cognitive and practical abilities for a long time.
  • Study will inspire more research on human evolution, behaviour, culture, and fossil preservation.

A new study by a team of researchers from the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa challenges the previous assumption that humans were habitually barefoot before 2 000 years ago in South Africa. The study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, presents evidence of shod tracks (footprints made by people wearing some foot covering) from three paleosurfaces (surfaces of considerable antiquity) found on South Africa’s Cape Coast, dating between 70 000 and 150 000 years ago.

The researchers used ichnology (the study of fossil tracks and traces) to compare their own shod tracks with the ancient ones, using computerised images and primitive footwear. They found that the ancient tracks had distinctive features that indicated the presence of some form of shoe, such as reduced toe impressions, heel-to-toe ratios, and footprint depths.

The researchers speculate that the type of shoes worn by the ancient humans were plakkies, or flip flops, based on the shape of the tracks and the archaeological evidence of sandals worn by San people. Plakkies are simple shoes made of leather or plant materials that are attached to the foot by a thong between the first and second toes. They are still worn today by many people in Africa and other parts of the world.

The researchers argue that the use of footwear by ancient humans has important implications for understanding their cognitive and practical abilities. They suggest that wearing shoes indicates a complex decision-making process that involves planning, problem-solving, and innovation. It also shows that ancient humans had the skills to manipulate materials and tools to create functional and durable products.

The study concludes 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. The researchers hope that their study will inspire more research on the evolution of human behaviour and culture, as well as the preservation and conservation of fossil tracks and traces.

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