Scientists say grass sandals discovered in a cave in Spain are 6,200 years old, making them the oldest woven grass footwear ever discovered in Europe and forcing them to rethink “simplistic assumptions” about our human ancestors in the region.
The announcement came from a team that has been studying 76 objects found many years ago in a cave in southern Spain. Researchers from the Universidad de Alcalá and the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona said the objects were the first direct evidence of basketry among hunter-gatherer societies and early agrarian communities in southern Europe.
Among the discoveries were baskets, sandals and organic tools made of reed and esparto grass. By studying the raw materials the objects were made of, the researchers were able to date them to the early and middle Holocene period, between 9,500 and 6,200 years ago.
The discovery of these ancient grass sandals in the cave has led scientists to challenge the previously held simplistic assumptions about human communities in southern Europe before the advent of agriculture. Francisco Martínez Sevilla, a researcher in the Prehistory Department of the University of Alcalá, noted that the quality and technological complexity of the basketry raise questions about our understanding of early human societies in the region during that era.
María Herrero Otal, a co-author of the study, emphasized the unique opportunity that this research provides for studying the social aspects of early human groups. Fiber-based materials like those found in the cave are not typically recovered from archaeological sites. This discovery suggests that the use of esparto grass dates back at least 9,500 years, and it remains a living tradition in Iberia (Spain and Portugal). Remarkably, the techniques, raw materials, and their preparation have been used consistently for thousands of years, with contemporary artisans still employing similar methods.
The sandals uncovered in the cave represent “the earliest and widest-ranging assemblage of prehistoric footwear, both in the Iberian Peninsula and in Europe, unparalleled at other latitudes.” This groundbreaking discovery was published in the journal Science Advances, shedding new light on the history and craftsmanship of ancient communities in southern Europe.