They don’t make shoes like they used to anymore, at least out of sagebrush like they did about 10,000 years ago.
By looking at the Fort Rock and Paisley sandals showcased at the Klamath County Museum, they must have been well-made because despite some wear and tear, the shoes remain largely intact.
“They are the oldest sandals in the world that have (ever) been found,” curator Niles Reynolds said. “They’re not only important on a local level, but worldwide.”
Excavated in the 1930s and 1940s from south central Oregon by Dr. Luther Cressman, an archaeologist with the University of Oregon, the sandals are on permanent loan from the university, according Reynolds. The shoes were donated to the museum in the 1960s but are part of a larger collection of many more sandals found by Cressman.
“The Fort Rock sandals were excavated in 1938,” Reynolds said. “The sandal we have is one of about 75 others.”
Back then, Reynolds said the cave where the sandal was found would have been located on the shores of a lake, which would have been an important location for food. The Fort Rock Sandal was found caked in mud, buried beneath a layer of ash thought to be from the eruption of Mount Mazama, which created Crater Lake about 7,000 years ago, Reynolds said. They were found near the Fort Rock volcanic crater in central Oregon.
“They knew right away that it was a really, really, really old object,” he added.
Older than the Pyramids
At approximately 9,800 years old, the Fort Rock sandal was one of the first items used in the process of Carbon-14 dating, the curator said.
“That’s before the Pyramids were built,” Reynolds said, adding perspective.
Reynolds used a screwdriver and other tools to ever so carefully lift the glass case enclosing the footwear on Thursday. Now showcased closer to the front of the museum, the sandals are more easily seen by the public. Time has worn down the sandals and parts of the shoes are falling apart — even more of a reason to maintain them.
“These are really significant objects,” Reynolds said.
The Paisley sandal is listed as approximately 6,500 years old and was found with fossilized excrement in the Paisley Caves in south central Oregon.
“This is the first time they’ve kind of been highlighted as their own thing,” Reynolds said.
Check out the sandals on display at the museum Tuesdays through Saturdays, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.