Early Humans Dabbled With Fashion a Hundred Thousand Years Ago, Indicate Clues from Moroccan Cave | The Weather Channel – Articles from The Weather Channel

Carnivores were skinned for fur and bone tools were then used to prepare the furs into pelts. (Jacopo Niccolò Cerasoni, 2021)

Carnivores were skinned for fur and bone tools were then used to prepare the furs into pelts.

(Jacopo Niccolò Cerasoni, 2021)

You know what they say: fashion always finds a way back—the return of bootcut jeans from the groovy 60s is a recent example. But we bet it never occurred to you that you’ve probably been borrowing fashion trends from humans from the Pleistocene era—tens of thousands of years ago. And that leather jacket some are so proud of, it’s ancient, literally!

A new study has revealed that the fur and leather clothes that are au courant today were worn by early humans 120,000 and 90,000 years ago!

Studying the artefacts discovered in the Contrebandiers Cave in Morocco, scientists said that these early humans were making specialised bone tools, skinning animals, and then using tools to process these skins for fur and leather. Emily Hallett of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Germany, the study’s first author, believes that this work reinforces the idea that early humans in Africa were incredibly innovative and resourceful.

The researchers unearthed 62 bones from layers dating from 120,000 to 90,000 years old that appeared to have been used as tools. Further assessment revealed that these tools are cautiously shaped and polished. Despite their antiquity, the implements were relatively well-made for the tasks at hand, suggesting that people began processing fur and skins with more primitive versions of such tools very early on.

Evolution of clothing lice holds more clues

Bone needles discovered in Siberia, dating from 45,000 to 40,000 years ago, were some of the earliest evidence for clothing among Homo family. Though archaeological evidence is limited, the experts believe our species began manufacturing primitive garments thousands of years before the date of the Moroccan items.

The lice that dwell in our clothes are different from the lice that live on our scalps. Scientists can find out when humans first started wearing clothing by using DNA sequencing to trace when these clothe-loving lice first arose, genetically deviating from their cousins.

A study on the genetic analysis of clothing lice was published a decade ago. It tracked their lineages back in antiquity and showed that Homo sapiens in Africa may have worn clothing as early as 170,000 years ago—a date that matches the facts discovered in the ground in Morocco!

A cave of secrets

Entrance to Contrebandiers Cave, Morocco. (Contrebandiers Project, 2009)

Entrance to Contrebandiers Cave, Morocco.

(Contrebandiers Project, 2009)

Initially, Emily was curious about the diet of early humans and wanted to learn what our Pleistocene ancestors ate and how they hunted animals. She and her team explored the Contrebandiers Cave that lay roughly 800 feet from the Atlantic coastline in Temara, Morocco. But what they found instead was “highly suggestive proxy evidence for the earliest clothing in the archaeological record!”

“These bone tools have shaping and use marks that indicate they were used for scraping hides to make leather and for scraping pelts to make fur. At the same time, I found a pattern of cut marks on the carnivore bones from Contrebandiers Cave that suggested that humans were not processing carnivores for meat but were instead skinning them for their fur,” said Emily.

The team found broad, rounded end objects known as spatulates that were fashioned from bovid ribs. Spatulate-shaped tools are ideal for scraping and thus removing internal connective tissues from leathers and pelts during the hide or fur-working process, as they do not pierce the skin or pelt, they said. The team also found a whale tooth, which appeared to have been used to flake stone.

Remains of sand foxes, golden jackals, and wildcats were found with the bone tools, plainly displaying marks similar to those left during skinning. Other evidence such as incisions on animal’s paws, and other cut marks also supported the hypothesis that early human’s skinned these animals for their skin. There were no signs of butchery or eating on these carnivore species, but merely the cuts required to remove the skin.

Living in style

Hides drying in the sun at Chouara Tannery in Fez, Morocco. (Emily Yuko Hallett, 2009).

Hides drying in the sun at Chouara Tannery in Fez, Morocco.

(Emily Yuko Hallett, 2009)

Humans needed warmer clothes to survive the Ice Age, explaining their need to hunt animals and fashion clothes out of their fur. And this explanation is in tandem with the older theory that most of what early humans and neanderthals did was necessitated by their surroundings.

But the findings from the expedition in the Moroccan cave don’t quite fit this context. The regions around the Contrebandiers Cave have a reasonably mild climate today, just as they did 100,000 years ago. This led Emily Hallet to suggest that those humans probably did not need that kind of warm clothing for survival.

Apart from animal remains, the scientists also found trinkets such as shell beads that wouldn’t have served any nutritional purpose. This was another reason why some researchers believe that the early humans used these articles as ornaments.

With the current evidence, it does look like our Pleistocene ancestors found a way to blend practicality with a bit of whimsy.

The study was published in iScience this month and can be accessed here.


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