Origin of Clothing of Early Hominids: Who Invented & Why Wear?
“Gender-Neutrality is the default settings involved in the origin of clothing.” – Purushu Arie
Clothing: Item(s) used to cover/enclose the body.
Clothing: A Survival Reaction to Evolutionary Loss of Fur?
Fossil remains of Lucy, an Australopithecus Afarensis from 3.2 million years ago suggests that she could walk upright on two legs and be covered in fur. By around 2 million / 20 lakh years ago, hominids increasingly inhabited grasslands where they started to hunt & eat more meat. Hominids also lost their body hair over this period to sweat more profusely and survive the sun’s glaring heat. It is possible that early hominids covered themselves in animal furs/skins/feathers (a byproduct of their food) to compensate for the evolutionary loss of hair – particularly to survive in harsh environmental conditions. Earliest hominids who invented clothing probably didn’t wear clothes all the time but covered up in animal hides only in extreme weathers.
Evolutionary Role of Homo Eructus in Origin of Clothing:
While Australopithecus hominids were the first to use stone tools, a Columbia University research suggests that Homo Eructus who appeared about 2 million ago were the earliest of hominids to forge weapons like hand-axe, and master technologies like the controlled use of fire.
Homo Eructus is not only speculated to be the first of hominids to live in a hunter-gatherer society but also among the earliest to migrate in waves from Africa to Eurasia – both of which plays a crucial role in the evolutionary development of clothing. Having lived for over a million years, Homo Erectus is probably the longest-lived species of Homo, and diverged into sub-species by around 5,00,000 years ago – notably Homo Heidelbergensis, the common ancestor of both Homo Sapiens & Neanderthals who first appeared in Africa & Eurasia respectively around 3,00,000-2,00,000 years ago.
Homo Sapiens Wore Clothes since 83,000-1,70,000 years ago.
It is impractical to determine the exact origins of clothing with mere archaeological evidence since early clothing materials (animal skins and furs) do not fossilise like bones or stand the test of time like other pre-historic remains. A University of Florida based research studied the origins of clothing lice to date the genesis of clothing – since clothing lice evolved from head louse ancestors only after humans adopted clothing. The study estimates that clothing lice diverged from head louse ancestors at least before 83,000 years and possibly as early as 170,000 years ago – the earliest known estimate of clothing worn by Homo Sapiens.
Thermal Model of Origin of Clothing:
Survival needs like thermal protection appear to be the primary purpose of clothing in ice age conditions which began before 2.5 million years and lasted up to 11,700 years ago. It is likely that only those hominids who covered adequately survived the test of evolution in the cold Pleistocene climate, and it can be commented with surety that Homo Sapiens wore clothes on a regular basis to keep warm after the first exposure to such harsh Ice Age conditions. The dating of the genesis of clothing by understanding the evolution of clothing lice, however, implies that Homo Sapiens wore clothes at least about 70,000-40,000 years before the earliest migrations out of Africa to colder latitudes.
Body Art & Modifications: Proto-Clothing?
Few forms of body art and modifications of early hominids include:
- The use of colours/cosmetics applied over the body.
- Creation of visible patterns/imagery on the body for purely aesthetic or symbolic intent.
- Temporary/permanent modification of body in forms of piercing etc.
- Wearing 2D/3D objects on the body like shells, animal teeth, feathers and beads for functional and/or aesthetic purposes.
Hominids in Africa used ochre pigments by 2,00,000BP – almost the same time range as the early red ochre use in the Neanderthals record. H. sapiens used beads in Kibish, Ethiopia dated to 195 000 BP. The practice of piercing teeth, shells and bones, and stringing them, singly or multiply, to make a pendant or necklace is the oldest known form of personal decoration after body painting. Discovery of spun, dyed and knotted flax fibres from a series of Upper Paleolithic layers at Dzudzuana Cave, located in the foothills of the Caucasus, Georgia, indicates that prehistoric hunter-gatherers developed a knack for vanity, decorations and other sartorial symbolic interpretations at least before 30,000 years. It is possible that some hominids substituted body decorations with clothing only after they migrated and faced cold weather conditions.
Combination of Multiple Needs/Wants Leading to Origin of Clothing:
The fact that nudity remains an acceptable norm in many hunter-gatherer cultures of the modern world asserts that clothing in itself is not vital for survival – not for everyone at least. In the vast timeline of early hominids spanning millions of years, it is highly likely that clothing was invented more than once for more than one purpose by various groups of Hominids at various locations spread from Africa to Eurasia. For example, Neanderthals who inhabited Europe are likely to have invented clothing at a different timeline (possibly earlier) than Homo Sapiens. In contrast to the warm tropical weathers of Africa where Homo Sapiens lived for the most of their evolutionary history, Neanderthals lived in colder European conditions and wore thick furs cloak that offered thermal protection which was crucial for survival.
Role of Clothing in Evolutionary Success of Homo Sapiens Over Other Hominids:
Homo Sapiens joined Neanderthals in Europe 42,000 years ago where they co-existed for roughly about 2000-5000 years. Unlike Neanderthals, whose shorter and stockier bodies were better adapted to Europe’s colder weather, Homo Sapiens had leaner bodies, which made them more vulnerable to the cold. A comparative study between the clothing of Neanderthals and Homo Sapiens concluded that Neanderthals covered 70-80% of their body as opposed to 90% covered by Homo Sapiens. The disparities in body-coverage arise from the fact that Neanderthals were better adapted to cold whereas Homo Sapiens were forced to cover up more. Denisovan Hominids, who coexisted with Neanderthals and Homo Sapiens in Europe, is credited with using the world’s oldest surviving sewing-needle which is approx. 50,000 years old. By about 30,000 years ago, Homo Sapiens developed better tools like blade, improved upon the technology of Neanderthals/Denisovans and sewed tight-fitting clothing to compensate their biological drawbacks – this technological advancement in clothing is likely to have enabled more insulative clothing than that of Neanderthals and a key for evolutionary success of Homo Sapiens over other Neanderthals. Even if insufficient insulation didn’t cause the extinction of Neanderthals, the more developed and thermally effective clothing of Homo Sapiens is likely part of the adaptive package that helped them outnumber other archaic Hominids.
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