Can you believe people may have been wearing shoes way back in the Stone Age? New evidence suggests that humans might have put on shoes as early as 75,000 to 150,000 years ago. This means our early human ancestors may have been smarter and more capable than we thought.

The oldest shoes ever found in Europe are 6,000 years old. In South Africa, it was thought that people didn’t wear shoes until 2,000 years ago. But some exciting fossil footprints found on beaches in South Africa are changing that idea. These fossils show that people at that time were wearing some type of footwear when they walked on the beach.

Dr. Bernhard Zipfel, a scientist who studies fossils, says it makes sense that people back then would cover their feet. The beaches had very sharp rocks that could hurt bare feet. He explains that 100,000 years ago, even a small cut on your foot could get infected and be deadly. Ouch!

The fossils don’t show exactly what kind of shoes people wore. Things like leather and plant materials would have totally rotted away over time. But Dr. Zipfel and his research team were able to study the footprints left behind in the sand and dirt.

Image generated by Stable Diffusion

Footprints can tell scientists a lot about how people lived long ago. By looking at the shape and size of really old footprints, they can learn about how people moved and behaved. The researchers call this “ichnology,” which means the study of tracks and burrows.

Dr. Zipfel thinks the stone age shoe style was probably something like flip-flops. This matches up with some cool archaeological finds of ancient sandals used by the San people in Africa. He says sturdy shoes were important to help people deal with the tough outdoors.

To test their ideas, the scientists made their own basic flip-flop-style shoes. They walked up and down the same beaches where the fossils were found. They tried leaving prints in wet and dry sand that they could compare to the ancient prints. The matches were amazing, according to Dr. Zipfel!

Their research turned up at least three footprints along the southern coast of Africa that seem to have been left by people wearing shoes. The evidence isn’t 100% clear, but it’s very exciting. It also shows that people in southern Africa were smart and innovative for a very long time.

So next time you complain about wearing shoes, think about how putting shoes on to protect our feet is something people were doing tens of thousands of years ago! Those stone age people must have been pretty clever to come up with the idea.


University of the Witwatersrand | Charles W. Helm, Martin G. Lockley, et al., (2023) Possible shod-hominin tracks on South Africa’s Cape coast, Ichnos, DOI: 10.1080/10420940.2023.2249585

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