The World's Oldest Shoes


Sagebrush bark sandal from Catlow Cave, radiocarbon dated to 9,300 years old

In 1938 archaeologist Luther Cressman (from the University of Oregon) excavated at Fort Rock Cave, located in a small volcanic butte approximately half a mile west of the Fort Rock volcanic crater in central Oregon. The Fort Rock Basin is the most northwesterly sub-basin of the Great Basin, Western North America's vast intermontane desert.

Cressman found dozens of sandals below a layer of volcanic ash, subsequently determined to come from the eruption of the Mt. Mazama volcano 7500 years ago. Named for the site where they were first found, Fort Rock-style sandals have since been reported from ancient deposits in several Northern Great Basin caves.

Sagebrush bark sandals from Fort Rock Cave, similar to specimens radiocarbon dated from 10,500-9,300 years old.

Fort Rock sandals are stylistically distinct. They are twined (pairs of weft fibers twisted around warps), and have a flat, close-twined sole, usually with five rope warps. Twining proceeded from the heel to the toe, where the warps were subdivided into finer warps and turned back toward the heel. These fine warps were then open-twined (with spaces between the weft rows) to make a toe flap. Cressman surmised that a tie rope attached to one edge of the sole wrapped around the ankle and fastened to the opposite edge.

Most dated Fort Rock-style sandals are from Fort Rock Cave, but directly dated sandals of this type are also known from Cougar Mountain and Catlow Caves. Directly dated Fort Rock style sandals range in age from at least 10,500 BP to 9200 BP (based on dendrocalibrated radiocarbon ages). For more information, refer to Connolly and Cannon 1999.

Table 1. Directly dated Fort Rock-style sandals, northern Great Basin.

14C Age

Lab No.

Age Range (cal BP, 1 sigma)

Dated Material





10,920-9650 BP

sagebrush bark

Fort Rock Cave

Arnold and Libby 1951



10,440-9380 BP

sagebrush bark

Fort Rock Cave

Cressman 1951; Bedwell and Cressman 1971



9380-9240 BP

sagebrush bark

Catlow Cave

Connolly and Cannon 1999



9840-9240 BP


Cougar Mtn. Cave

Ferguson and Libby 1962; Connolly 1994



9530-9380 BP

sagebrush bark

Fort Rock Cave

Bedwell and Cressman 1971



10,360-10,020 BP

sagebrush bark

Fort Rock Cave?

Connolly and Cannon 1999



9870-9520 BP

sagebrush bark

Fort Rock Cave?

Connolly and Cannon 1999

Note: *The commonly cited 9053350 age for the "Fort Rock sandal" is actually an average of these two dates, run on "several pairs of woven rope sandals" (Arnold and Libby 1951:117). The weighted average of these two ages produces an age range of 10,390-9650 cal BP.

Russian page translation by Alisa Bagrii


         Arnold, J. R. and W. F. Libby
1951 Radiocarbon Dates. Science 113(2927):111-120.

         Bedwell, Stephen F. and Luther S. Cressman
1971 Fort Rock Report: Prehistory and Environment of the Pluvial Fort Rock Lake Area of South-Central Oregon. In Great Basin Anthropological Conference 1970: Selected Papers, edited by C. Melvin Aikens, pp. 1-25. University of Oregon Anthropological Papers 1. Eugene

         Connolly, Thomas J. and William J. Cannon
1999 Comments on "America's Oldest Basketry." Radiocarbon 41(3):309-313.

         Cressman, Luther S.
1951 Western Prehistory in the Light of Carbon 14 Dating. Southwestern Journal of Anthropology 7(3):289-313.

         Cressman, Luther S.
1942 Archaeological Researches in the Northern Great Basin. Carnegie Institution of Washingon Publication 538. Washington, D. C.

         Ferguson, G. J. and W. F. Libby
1962 UCLA Radiocarbon Dates. Radiocarbon 4:109-114.

Page design/contact: Tom Connolly