The shoe was found in 2003 in the melting snow of Gurgler Eisjoch glacier by Simone Bartolini, a cartographer for the Military Geographic Institute in Florence. Bartolini was mapping the Austrian-Italian border in South Tyrol, a German-speaking area of northern Italy.
Assuming the shoe to be about a hundred years old, Bartolini displayed the shoe in his office as a memento. He only realised that it was much older than previously thought after discussing it with an archaeologist colleague.
Radiocarbon dating by two separate labs now shows the shoe dates from 3800-3700 BC. This makes it up to 600 years older than the famous ice man Ötzi, who was found in 1991 just seven kilometres from the site of the latest discovery.
The shoe was presented at a press conference in South Tyrol on Monday. It is made from a 1.5 metre piece of birch wood bent into an oval.
“It is the oldest snowshoe in the world,” the scientists said in a statement.
Catrin Marzoli, director of the South Tyrol office of archaeological monuments, told a press conference in Bolzano on Monday that the snow shoes were almost identical to those worn in the area until just a few decades ago.
“The glacier has given us an exceptional testimony”.
“It indicates that as early as the late Neolithic period people with proper equipment were present on the alpine watershed at an altitude of over three thousand meters,” she said, according to Südtirol News
Archaeologists believe that ancient glaciers melted by global warming could turn up a large number of prehistoric finds in the future.