Lonely Planet Writer

Shoe from melted glacier in Italy proven to be nearly 6000 years old

A snowshoe, initially understood to belong to a 19th century cattle farmer in Italy, is in fact almost 6,000 years old it has been confirmed.

The Dolomites in the South Tyrol, Italy.
The Dolomites in the South Tyrol, Italy. Image by Iain Simpson / CC BY-SA 2.0

The item of footwear was discovered 13 years ago in the Dolomite Mountains after melting in the Gurgler Eisjoch glacier. Cartographer Simone Bartolini, who was working for the Military Geographic Institute of Florence, unearthed it. He had been mapping in South Tyrol, which is a German speaking part of Northern Italy. The Local reports that Bartolini thought the shoe was about 100 years old and left it as a display item in his office. It wasn’t until some time later, after he spoke to an archaeological colleague, that he found out how much older it is.

It has now been revealed, following radiocarbon dating at two separate laboratories, that the footwear goes all the way back to 3800-3700 BC. In fact, this discovery has turned out to be almost 600 years older than the famous iceman Ötzi, found a quarter of a century ago, seven kilometres from the snowshoe discovery. This week, at a press conference in South Tyrol, the shoe was put on display. Bent into an oval shape, it measures 1.5 metres in length. Scientists declared in an accompanying statement that it is “the oldest snowshoe in the world.” The director of the South Tyrol office of archaeological monuments, Catrin Marzoli, said the shoes are very similar to those worn in the district up to a few decades ago. She said the glacier had given “exceptional testimony,” adding that it appears people lived on the alpine watershed at altitude of over 3000 metres dating back to the late Neolithic period.