From the medieval fashion for pointy shoes to Victorian waist-squeezing corsets and modern furry onesies, what we wear is a window to our past.
Now researchers say they have found some of the earliest evidence of humans using clothing in a cave in Morocco, with the discovery of bone tools and bones from skinned animals 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 first author of the study, 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 hallmark human behaviours that begin to appear in the archaeological record of Africa around 100,000 years ago,” she said.
While skins and furs are unlikely to survive in deposits for hundreds of thousands of years, previous studies looking at the DNA of clothing lice have suggested clothes may have appeared as early as 170,000 years ago – probably sported by anatomically modern humans in Africa.
The latest study adds further weight to the idea that early humans may have had something of a wardrobe.
Writing in the journal i Science, Hallett and colleagues report how they analysed animal bones excavated in a series of digs spanning several decades at Contrebandiers Cave on the Atlantic coast of Morocco. The cave has previously been revealed to contain the remains of early humans.
Hallett said she began studying the animal bones in 2012 because she was interested in reconstructing the diet 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 to between 120,000 and 90,000 years ago that showed signs of having been turned into tools.