Found: world's oldest shoe, oldest gum

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(No, they weren't found stuck to one another.) The former belonged to Otzi the iceman, who died after a skirmish in the Alps about 5,000 years ago. Having been preserved by a glacier and rediscovered in 1999 by hikers, his body and tools have been a veritable smorgasbord for anthropologists. (But not an actual smorgasbord ... that would be gross.) By freeze-drying the lumps of grass attached to his feet, scientists were able to identify and model what they believe to have been his shoes. By all accounts, they look (and sound) like something you could order from L.L. Bean:

The shoes were waterproof and wide, designed for walking across the snow; they were constructed using bearskin for the soles, deer hide for top panels, and a netting made of tree bark. Soft grass went around the foot and in the shoe and functioned like warm socks.

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Like the sound of that? Well, good news: you can buy a pair of your own. According to testers, they're warm and comfortable -- "far better than some modern shoes."

As for the ancient gum, it was recently discovered by an archeology student on a dig in Finland. Believed to be about 2,000 years old, it's made from birch bark tar which becomes chewy when heated. So how did they know this lump of stuff was gum? It still has tooth marks in it. It may also have had medicinal purposes:

"Birch bark tar contains phenols, which are antiseptic compounds. It is generally believed that Neolithic people found that by chewing this stuff if they had gum infections it helped to treat the condition."

Perhaps understandably, we haven't heard about any companies clamoring to recreate and market Neolithic gum.

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August 23, 2007 - 5:15am
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