Purushu's award winning fashion blog was founded in 2009 while studying fashion design at NIFT New Delhi. At the age of 19, he wrote show reviews for FDCI's Designer Node dailies at India Fashion Week, New Delhi. Following a stint as menswear designer at Future Group (Lee Cooper), Mumbai in 2013, he relocated to Chennai where he continued freelancing and authored fashion columns for The Hindu newspaper. In 2017, Purush Arie blog evolved into India's first ungendered fashion label. Purushu spoke about gender neutral revolution through fashion at TEDxChennai in March 2018.

Origin of Clothing of Early Hominids: Who Invented & Why Wear?

Gender-Neutrality is the default settings involved in the origin of clothing.” – Purushu Arie

 

Hominid Evolution Timeline

Image: ScienceMe

 

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.[1] 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.[2]

Forensic reconstruction of Homo Eructus face

Forensic reconstruction of Homo Eructus skull by W. Schnaubelt & N. Kieser (Atelier WILD LIFE ART), Image: WikiCommons

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[3] – 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.[4]

 

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.
body art and decorations of early hominids

Evolution of body art & artefacts used by early Hominids. Image: Gillian M Morriss-Kay

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.[5] H. sapiens used beads in Kibish, Ethiopia dated to 195 000 BP.[6] 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.[7] 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.[8] 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:

Few evolutionary purposes of clothing in Maslow's hierarchy pyramid of needs & wants.

Interpreting a few evolutionary purposes of clothing with Maslow’s hierarchy pyramid of needs & wants.

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.[9]

 

Clothing of Neanderthals

Soft tissue reconstruction of a Homo Neanderthalensis male & child, Natural History Museum, Vienna ( Austria ) Image: WikiCommons

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.[10]  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.[11] 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[12] – 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.[13]

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

  1.  Alan R. Rogers, David Iltis, and Stephen Wooding, “Genetic Variation at the MC1R Locus and the Time since Loss of Human Body Hair,” Current Anthropology 45, no. 1 (February 2004): 105-108
  2. Humans Shaped Stone Axes 1.8 Million Years Ago, Study Says, The Earth Institute, (2011-09-01)
  3. The Age of the 20 Meter Solo River Terrace, Java, Indonesia and the Survival of Homo erectus in Asia, June 29, 2011
  4. Melissa A. Toups, Andrew Kitchen, Jessica E. Light, David L. Reed, Origin of Clothing Lice Indicates Early Clothing Use by Anatomically Modern Humans in Africa, Molecular Biology and Evolution, Volume 28, Issue 1, January 2011, Pages 29–32
  5. Use of red ochre by early Neandertals by Wil Roebroeks, Mark J. Sier, Trine Kellberg Nielsen, Dimitri De Loecker, Josep Maria Parés, Charles E. S. Arps, and Herman J. Mücher, PNAS, February 7, 2012
  6. Stratigraphic placement and age of modern humans from Kibish, Ethiopia by McDougall I, Brown FH, Fleagle JG, Nature. 2005 Feb 17
  7. The evolution of human artistic creativity by Gillian M Morriss-Kay J Anat. 2010 Feb; 216(2): 158–176
  8. 30,000-Year-Old Wild Flax Fibers, Science 11 Sep 2009: Vol. 325, Issue 5946, pp. 1359
  9. Faunal evidence for a difference in clothing use between Neanderthals and early modern humans in Europe, Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, Volume 44, Part B, December 2016, Pages 235-246
  10. Modeling Neanderthal clothing using ethnographic analogues by Nathan Wales, Journal of Human Evolution, Volume 63, Issue 6, December 2012, Pages 781-795
  11. World’s oldest needle found in Siberian cave that stitches together human history, The Serbian Times
  12. Neanderthal Extinction and Modern Human Behaviour: The Role of Climate Change and Clothing by Ian Gilligan, World Archaeology, Vol. 39, No. 4, Debates in “World Archaeology” (Dec., 2007), pp. 499-514
  13. Clothing and the replacement of Neanderthals by Modern Humans by Lia Tarle

 

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4 Comments
  • shraddha_raletta
    Reply
    November 6, 2019

    Great! Information you have been shared, it’s really very impressive and easy to understand please share more useful information like this. thank you

  • Jan
    Reply
    November 19, 2019

    It is amazing, our clothing came a long way from just protecting us from hursh enviroment.

  • JITHIN DANIEL RAJU
    Reply
    November 25, 2019

    Amazing post.Thanks

  • sakshi gupta
    Reply
    November 28, 2019

    an interesting blog with great information. thank you for posting

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