When Did Humans Start Wearing Shoes?

According to Eric Trinkaus we started wearing shoes approximately 30,000 years BP.

A 26,000 year-old early modern human, Dolni Vestonice 16 from the Czech Republic, showing the reduced strength of the bones of the lesser toes. It is one of three partial foot skeletons from Dolni Vestonice that shows the reduced lesser toe strength, all dating to about 26,000 years ago. (Photo Credit: Erik Trinkaus / Czech Academy of Sciences)

He analyzed the the feet of middle and upper Paleolithic humans and compared the strength of the toes (based on robusticity, size of muscle markings, etc.) with leg strength (I’m assuming this means the tibia and fibula – again based on robusticity, size of muscle markings, etc.). Trinkaus notes that around 30,000 years ago toe strength underwent a reduction while calf strength remained the same. He chalks up this decrease in toe strength to the full time use of supportive footwear:

During barefoot walking, the smaller toes flex for traction, keeping the toe bones strong. Supportive footwear lessens the roll of the little toes, thus weakening them.

Trinkaus is certainly one of the more original thinkers in Paleoanthropology, but I am a little bit skeptical. Granted, I haven’t read the article in the October Journal of Archaeological Science (abstract available here – so if someone out there with access wants to send me a copy of the article…?). My first thought on reading the Science Daily article was what about allometry and/or sexual dimorphism?

Added Later: Go here for more.

4 Responses

  1. It sounds interesting and plausible, but so would other explanations. I wonder how much the bones in our hands and fingers changed as a response to tool use?

  2. Yes it is plausible, muscles would atrophy and bones would get more gracile assuming that supportive footwear does indeed impact toe strength. My concern is how you get from that to a permanent reduction in size without invoking, say, the inheritance of acquired characteristics. There was also a trend towards decreasing robusticity – modern humans are relatively gracile compared to our predecessors – which would have an impact. I think I would want to see a comparison of modern populations who wear shoes with modern populations that don’t – and there are still some of those around – to see if shoes really have an effect on toe size. Trinkaus’ ideas can be incredibly brilliant or incredibly out of left field and it’s kind of hard to tell sometimes without a lot of further study (at least that’s my impression of him).

  3. I can see how toe size could be manipulated with shoe wearing. Didn’t (or possibly still) they bind girls feet to keep them small in some of the less modern countries? I’m thinking about binding my waist and butt. Maybe, I can get them smaller:(

  4. Yes they did – but I’d be careful about bind anything else…law of unexpected results and all.

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