The Museum of Natural and Cultural History is famous for its remarkable collection of sandals recovered from dry cave sites in Oregon's Northern Great Basin. Beginning with excavations by Luther Cressman in the 1930s, well-preserved sandals woven from sagebrush bark and other fibers were found above and below a volcanic ash deposited by the explosion of Mount Mazama, which created Crater Lake 7600 years ago. After carbon dating was developed in the 1950s, Cressman had a Fort Rock-style sandal dated; when calibrated to true calendar years, the sandal was more than 10,000 years old. With support from the BLM, Tom Connolly—director of archaeological research at the Museum of Natural and Cultural History and State Museum of Anthropology—has had numerous sandals dated via AMS 14C, which requires just a tiny sample. The results show that Fort Rock-style sandals were made from ~10,200 to 9,300 years ago (BP)—the oldest directly-dated shoes in the world!
Fort Rock sandals disappear from the Northern Great Basin about 9,300 years ago, after which multiple warp and spiral weft sandals were made for millennia. The persistence of these ‘later’ types over thousands of years is remarkable, mirroring the longevity of other basketry types in the region, some of which were still being made historically by Klamath and Modoc Tribal members.
Learn more about the sandal types, or explore a wider variety of Northern Great Basin artifacts on the museum's Anthropological Collections online database.
Connolly, Thomas J., Pat Barker, Catherine S. Fowler, Eugene M. Hattori, Dennis L. Jenkins, and William J. Cannon
2016 Getting Beyond the Point: Textiles of the Terminal Pleistocene/Early Holocene in the Northwestern Great Basin. American Antiquity 81(3):490-514.
Connolly, Thomas J. and Pat Barker.
2004 Basketry Chronology of the Early Holocene in the Northern Great Basin. In Early and Middle Holocene Archaeology in the Northern Great Basin, edited by Dennis L. Jenkins, Thomas J. Connolly, and C. Melvin Aikens, pp. 241-150. University of Oregon Anthropological Papers 62, Eugene.
2008 Great Basin Sandals. In The Great Basin: People and Place in Ancient Times, edited by C. Fowler and D. Fowler. School for Advanced Research Press.
Connolly, Thomas J. and William J. Cannon.
1999 Comments on “America’s Oldest Basketry.” Radiocarbon 41(3):309-313
Cressman, Luther S.
1981 The Sandal and the Cave. Oregon State University.
Images © UO Museum of Natural and Cultural History. Production of this gallery was generously supported by The Ford Family Foundation.