From medieval fashions to pointy shoes to waist-cinching Victorian corsets and modern fur jumpsuits, what we wear is a window into our past.
Researchers now say they have found some of the earliest evidence of human use of clothing in a cave in Morocco, with the discovery of bone tools and skinned animal bones suggesting the practice dates back to at least 120 years. 000 years old.
Dr Emily Hallett, from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Germany, the study’s first author, said the work reinforced the idea that the first humans in Africa were innovative and resourceful.
“Our study adds another element to the long list of characteristic human behaviors that began to appear in the archaeological records of Africa around 100,000 years ago,” she said.
While hides and furs are unlikely to survive in deposits for hundreds of thousands of years, previous studies of the DNA of clothing lice have suggested that clothing may have appeared 170,000 ago. years old – probably worn by anatomically modern humans in Africa.
The latest study adds weight to the idea that early humans might have had a wardrobe.
Writing in the journal i Science, Hallett and his colleagues report how they analyzed animal bones excavated during a series of excavations spanning decades in the Smugglers Cave on Morocco’s Atlantic coast. The cave has already been revealed to contain the remains of the first humans.
Hallett said she started studying animal bones in 2012 because she was interested in reconstructing the diets of early humans and exploring whether there had been any changes in diet associated with changes in stone tool technology.
However, she and her colleagues found 62 bones from layers dating between 120,000 and 90,000 years ago that showed signs of having been turned into tools.
Although the purpose of most of the tools remains unknown, the team found large, rounded terminal objects known as spatulas that were fashioned from ribs of bovids.
“Spatula-shaped tools are ideal for scraping and thus removing internal connective tissue from leathers and skins during the skin or fur working process, as they do not puncture the skin or skin,” writes l ‘team.
Sand fox, golden jackal and wildcat bones contained other clues, showing cut marks associated with the removal of the fur.
The team also found a whale tooth, which appeared to have been used to scale the stone. “I didn’t expect to find it since the whale remains have not been identified in any Pleistocene context in North Africa,” Hallett said.
While Hallett said it’s possible the bone tools could have been used to prepare leather for other uses, the combined evidence suggests it’s likely – especially for fur – that early humans made clothes.
But mysteries remain, including what the resulting outfits would have looked like and whether they were primarily used for protection from the elements or for more symbolic purposes.
Hallett added that she believed European Neanderthals and other sister species made clothing from animal skins long before 120,000 years ago – not least because they lived in temperate and cold environments.
“The clothes and expanded toolboxes of early humans are probably part of the package that has led to the adaptive success of humans and our ability to be successful globally and in extreme climatic regions,” he said. she declared.
Dr. Matt Pope, a Neanderthal expert at the UCL Institute of Archeology who did not participate in the study, said the clothes almost certainly had an evolutionary origin before 120,000 years, noting among other things evidence the discovery of even older stone scrapers, some with traces of hiding work.
But, he added, the new research suggested that Homo sapiens from the smugglers’ cave, like the Neanderthals from sites such as the Peyrony shelter and Pech-de-l’Azé in France, were making specialized tools. to transform animal skins into smooth, supple leather – a material that could also be useful for shelters, windbreaks and even containers.
“It’s an adaptation that goes beyond adopting clothing, it makes it possible to imagine clothing that is more waterproof, more fitted and easier to move on, than simpler scratched skins,” Pope said. “The earliest dates of these smugglers cave tools help us better understand the origins of this technology and its distribution among different populations of early humans. “