When did ancient people start wearing clothes?

Humans arose from ape-like ancestors who had hair all over their bodies. At some point, they came down from the trees, began to walk on two legs, and at the same time lost their hair. Accordingly, they needed protection from the weather, since the climate periodically changed and became very harsh. But when did ancient people first start using clothing? Unfortunately, this question is difficult to answer, since clothing, unlike tools or bones, is not preserved. Of course, some conclusions can be drawn based on indirect evidence, such as animal bones with traces of skinning, ancient sewing utensils, etc. But these artifacts are unlikely to give an exact answer to the question posed. Therefore, scientists also turned to the evolution of lice by studying their DNA.

When ancient people began to wear clothes. Scientists do not have exact data on when people began to wear clothes, but the period of time when this happened is known. Photo.

When lice adapted to live on the human body

It would seem, what could be the relationship between the evolution of lice and wearing clothes? The thing is that these insects have one feature – they are adapted only to their limited habitat. For example, lice, which evolved to live on the head, cannot survive in pubic hair. They are also unable to survive in human clothing the way evolved clothing seams can. The latter are in some ways universal, as they are able to live on fibers of different types.

Before human ancestors lost their hair, lice most likely roamed throughout the body, rather than living only on the head. To unravel the evolutionary history of these insects, scientists examined their DNA. The results showed that head lice and pubic lice split into two different types about three million years ago. Human genetics shows that body hair was lost about 1.2 million years ago.

Taken together, the above studies indicate a range of times when human ancestors lost hair. However, people did not start wearing clothes immediately, but after some time.

When lice adapted to live on the human body. Body lice told scientists when people started wearing clothes. Photo.Body lice told scientists when people first started wearing clothes

When people first started wearing clothes

To find out when humans first began wearing clothes, the authors analyzed the DNA of head and body lice, and found that the latter diverged about 170,000 years ago, during the penultimate ice age, as reported in the study. It can be concluded that during this period of time people began to wear clothes.

However, there is evidence that hominins (the group that includes modern humans and their closest extinct relatives) began wearing clothing much earlier. This is evidenced by cuts on the bones of a bear discovered at a site of ancient people in Germany. These data indicate that people began to use bear skins approximately 300 thousand years ago, as we described earlier.

As scientists explain, skinning leaves the most cuts on the ribs, skull and paws. The authors of the study began to study animal bones discovered in different parts of the world dating back to around the same time, and they also found characteristic marks from skinning.

When did people first start wearing clothes? People started using bear skins for clothing about 300 thousand years ago. Photo.

People started using bear skins for clothing about 300 thousand years ago

True, the use of bear skins by people does not mean that they wore clothes. The skins could be used, for example, to build shelters. However, given the low temperatures at that time, and the fact that people were engaged in gathering and hunting, skins still served as material for clothing.

Why did body lice appear later than clothing?

From all of the above, the question arises — Why did lice adapt to living in human clothing only 130 thousand years after people began to use clothing made from skins? The fact is that lice could only evolve when clothing became a permanent attribute of humans. If people wore clothes from time to time, insects would not be able to survive on them, since they need to constantly feed.

Most likely, 300 thousand years ago people did not wear clothes all the time. In addition, different groups of people probably started and stopped wearing clothing many times throughout their primitive history. For example, it is known that between 32,000 and 12,000 years ago, Tasmanian Aborigines hid from the cold in caves and wore clothing. This is evidenced by bone awls, skin scrapers and other artifacts.

Why did body lice appear later than clothing? The Aborigines of Tasmania wore clothing until the end of the last ice age. Photo.

Aborigines of Tasmania wore clothes until the end of the last ice age

However, after the end of the ice age When the climate became warmer, they stopped wearing clothes. Instead, they wore jewelry and simply painted their bodies. Therefore, the time difference between the use of bear skins and the evolution of body lice is not surprising.

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Finally, let us remind you that after clothing, people also began to have shoes. This happened between 79,000 and 148,000 years ago. By following the link you can learn about it in detail and find out how it evolved.