Fort Rock. If you haven’t been – you need to go. Its geologic past is stunning. It spans tens of thousands, even millions of years.
Yet, one of the things that put Fort Rock on the map in modern times were some sandals found in a cave nearby that only date back, oh, a brief 9,000 years or so.
“The sandals were found in 1938 by Luther Cressman. Luther Cressman was an archaeologist at the University of Oregon. They found this cache of sagebrush bark sandals — dozens of them,” said Tom Connolly of the University of Oregon Museum of Natural History.
Cressman was initially interested in rock art. But during his travels to various sites, he found that the artifacts were the more compelling story.
So, he and a small crew came to the area and uncovered a collection of sandals that he believed were quite old.
But this was that late 1930’s and our understanding of the age of our planet, let alone the universe, was very different. So many of his peers thought he might have been a little off his rocker.
“Around 1950, the radiocarbon dating technique was invented and Fort Rock sandals were among the first artifacts dated and it returned a date of over 9,000 years ago,” said Connolly.
And while we all know that sandals can’t talk, the construction of these sandals spoke volumes.
“The Fort Rock sandals are a particular style — a very distinctive style with a toe flap and a flat sole and secured around the ankle,” Connolly said. “Sandals of that type have been found in probably eight or nine or ten other caves since then in southeast Oregon, northern Nevada and one site in Western Idaho.”
Now remember, this was at a time when humans in this area were largely nomadic: Moving with the seasons and with the movement of their food source.
While they largely went barefoot during the warmer months, the winter brought about specific challenges that they had to adapt to.
“They use them in the winter time when they would have to go into the marshes and lakes for cutting reeds for bedding or collecting fishing nets or hunting waterfowl,” Connolly said.
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And while they likely lived in constructed shelters during those warmer months, the winter probably made them retreat upward. Into the shelter of caves that could keep them away from predators and the ever-increasing harsh weather.
“So Fort Rock cave, if that applied in ancient times, Fort rock cave was probably a winter time encampment,” Connolly said.
Another thing the sandals had to say was that our modern day tribes are directly connected to the people who walked this land more than 6,000 years before Jesus and Buddha walked the earth.
“It is just the same as basketry that was being made by the Klamath and Modoc in historic times,” Connolly said. “So, there’s this very strong continuity of tradition that we can recognize from modern native peoples back 10,000 years.”
It’s mind blowing. I mean here in the United States we marvel at buildings that have been around since the 1700s. In Europe they marvel at building that have been around since the Middle Ages. But these sandals? They take the chronological cake.
“As an archaeologist, I know that we celebrate a lot of historic things. Look at things like “century farms”. Well, this family has been here for a century,” Connolly said. “Well, you know I deal with cultural sites where we can trace this connection back 10,000 years. So I mean, I think that is something that people ought to know about.”
Recently they found some potential evidence of people in New Mexico over 20,000 years ago. Which is amazing! Yet modern humans are thought to have been around over 100,000 years ago on a planet that is about 4.5 billion years old, in a iniverse that is estimated to be over 14 billion years old.