This may look like an ordinary if fairly primitive shoe. If you came across it lying in the street you might not think much of it. If you happened to find it in the back of a cave that was buried by a volcanic eruption thousands of years ago, however, you might pay a bit more attention. Indeed, this shoe, one of the dozens known as the “Fort Rock Sandals,” provides unmistakable evidence of perhaps the earliest human habitation on the west coast of North America.
Fort Rock, located in Lane County, Oregon, has been known about for a long time, but the shoes were not discovered until an archaeological dig unearthed them in 1938 beneath a layer of ash deposited by the catastrophic eruption of Mt. Mazama about 7,000 years ago. Mt. Mazama was a pretty big event. The volcanic eruption was so huge that the mountain itself collapsed, forming what is now Crater Lake. The ash cloud buried much of North America, and also buried these shoes which were created by native peoples from sagebrush fibers. Astonishingly, they were already 2,000 years old by the time Mt. Mazama erupted.
We know very little about the people who made these objects. The debate has been raging for decades about how and from where the Americas were populated after (or perhaps before) the end of the last Ice Age (at least 1000 years before the shoes were made). The Fort Rock Sandals are among the earliest artifacts of North American native peoples. Nine thousand years ago is a long time. The last time the owner of this shoe walked in it, the construction of Stonehenge and the Pyramids were still thousands of years in the future. We’re talking about very deep time, and time that is not immediately apparent just by looking at what appears to be a very simple object.
Who knows what secrets of history might still be buried in the fibers of this shoe, waiting for some as-yet undiscovered technology to unlock it? Only one thing will tell: more time.