From medieval pointy shoes to waist-tightening Victorian corsets and modern furry rompers, what we wear is a window into our past.
Now, researchers say they have found some of the first evidence that humans wore clothing in a cave in Morocco, with the discovery of bone tools and skinned animal bones, suggesting the practice dates back at least 120,000 years. .
Dr. Emily Hallett of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Germany, the study’s first author, said the work reinforced the view that early humans in Africa were innovative and resourceful.
“Our study adds another piece to the long list of characteristic human behaviors that begin to appear in the archaeological record of Africa about 100,000 years ago,” he said.
While hides and skins are unlikely to survive in deposits for hundreds of thousands of years, previous studies looking at the DNA of clothing lice have suggested that the clothing may have appeared 170,000 years ago, probably worn by anatomically modern humans in Africa.
The latest study adds more weight to the idea that early humans may have had something like a wardrobe.
Writing in i Science magazine, Hallett and colleagues report how they analyzed animal bones excavated in a series of excavations spanning several decades at Contrebandiers Cave on the Atlantic coast of Morocco. The cave has been previously revealed to contain the remains of early humans.
Hallett said she began studying animal bones in 2012 because she was interested in reconstructing the diet of early humans and exploring whether there were dietary changes associated with changes in stone tool technology.
However, she and her colleagues found 62 layered bones dating to between 120,000 and 90,000 years ago that showed signs of having been turned into tools.
While the purpose of many of the tools is unknown, the team found objects with rounded and wide ends known as spatulates that were formed from bovid ribs.
“The spatula-shaped tools are ideal for scraping and therefore removing the internal connective tissues of hides and skins during the skin or skin working process, as they do not pierce the skin or skin,” he writes the team.
Sand fox, golden jackal, and bobcat bones contained more clues, showing cut marks associated with fur removal.
The team also found a whale tooth, which appeared to have been used for chipping stone. “I didn’t expect to find it as the whale remains have not been identified in any Pleistocene context in North Africa,” Hallett said.
While Hallett said it was possible that bone tools had been used to prepare leather for other uses, the combined evidence suggests that it is likely, particularly for hides, that early humans made clothing.
But mysteries remain, including what the resulting ensembles would look like and whether they were used primarily for protection against the elements or for more symbolic purposes.
Hallett added that he believed that European Neanderthals and other sister species were making clothing from animal skins long before 120,000 years ago, mostly because they lived in temperate and cold environments.
“The clothing and expanded tool sets of early humans are probably part of the package that led to the adaptive success of humans and our ability to succeed globally and in climate extremes,” he said.
Dr Matt Pope, a Neanderthal expert at the UCL Institute of Archeology who was not involved in the study, said the clothing almost certainly had an evolutionary origin before 120,000 years ago, and noted, among other evidence, the findings. of even older stone scrapers, some with traces of hiding the work.
But, he added, the new research suggested that Homo sapiens in the Smugglers’ Cave, like Neanderthals from sites like Abri Peyrony and Pech-de-l’Azé in France, were making specialized tools to turn animal skins into soft leather. and flexible, a material that could also be useful for shelters, windbreaks and even containers.
“This is an adaptation that goes beyond the mere adoption of clothing, it allows us to imagine clothing that is more waterproof, tighter and easier to move, than simpler scraped leathers,” Pope said. “The early dates of these tools from Contrebandiers Cave help us better understand the origins of this technology and its distribution among different populations of early humans.”