When Did Humans Start Wearing Clothes?
A discovery in a Moroccan cave has revealed some information.
Cavemen (and women) are frequently shown wearing furs in popular culture, but archaeological evidence of what our Stone Age forefathers wore and how they created clothing is sparse. Fur, leather, and other organic materials, especially those dating back more than 100,000 years, are rarely maintained. 62 bone tools used to prepare and smooth animal skins were discovered in a cave in Morocco, however, maybe some of the earliest proxy evidence for clothing in the archaeological record, according to researchers. Between 90,000 and 120,000 years have passed since the tools were made.
"I wasn't expecting to find them. I was studying this assemblage initially to look at the animal bones to reconstruct the human diet," Emily Yuko Hallett, a postdoctoral scientist with the Pan African Evolution Research Group at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, agreed.
A bone tool was used for leatherworking 120,000 to 90,000 years ago from the Contrebandiers Cave in Morocco. "And when I was going through them -- there were around 12,000 animal bones -- I started to notice these bones that had a very different shape. It wasn't a natural shape. And they had sheen on them, and they were shiny, and they had striations (grooves or scratches) on them," said Hallett was one of the authors of research on the findings that were published in the journal iScience on Thursday.
Unlike bones discarded after eating an animal for food, bones touched by human hands on a daily basis develop a gloss and polish. She also discovered a pattern of cut marks on other bones in the cave, indicating that the cave's inhabitants were removing the skins of carnivores including sand foxes, golden jackals, and wildcats for their furs. Different marks were found on the bones of cattle-like creatures, indicating that they had been processed for meat.
"I'm most excited about the skinning marks on the carnivores because I haven't seen this pattern described before. And my hope is that archaeologists working in much older sites also start looking for this pattern," she said. It's difficult to say when the use of clothing began. Although it's highly likely that early people, such as Neanderthals, who lived in cold climes long before Homo sapiens emerged on the scene, used clothing to protect themselves from the elements, there's little actual evidence to support this theory.
Clothing lice split from their human head louse predecessors at least 83,000 years ago, and potentially as early as 170,000 years ago, according to genetic analyses, implying that people wore clothes before large migrations out of Africa. One of 98 400,000-year-old elephant bone tools recently discovered in Italy, according to Hallett, may have been used to polish leather. Neanderthals most likely utilized them. Eyed needles appear significantly later in the archaeological record, some 40,000 years ago.
Hallett discovered bone tools from Morocco that were shaped like spatulas and would have been used to extract connective tissue. "Similar bone tools are still used by some leatherworkers today," Hallett said. At the Chouara Tannery in Fez, Morocco, hides are drying in the sun. Some leather artisans still use bone tools nowadays."The reason people like using these tools is that they don't pierce the skin, and so you're left with an intact skin," she said. The bone tools were discovered in Morocco's Atlantic coast's Contrebandiers Cave. According to Hallett, the climate 120,000 years ago would have been similar to today's, implying that early clothing might have been worn for decoration as well as protection.
"There's really no extreme temperatures or extreme climate conditions there in the past or today. So that makes me wonder was clothing strictly utilitarian or was it symbolic or was it a little bit of both?" Hallett said.
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