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People were already making clothing 120,000 years ago

A new study published in the journal iScience describes over 60 tools made of bone that a team of experts found in Morocco’s Contrebandiers Cave in 2011. The scientists consider these findings as proof of the earliest use of bone tools to produce clothing over 120,000 years ago.

The invention of clothing and development of the tools necessary to produce clothes are considered crucial milestones in the history of humanity, marking breakthroughs in cognitive and cultural evolution. Moreover, archaeologists believe that these developments enabled early humans to expand their niche from Pleistocene Africa to new environments characterized by different, colder climates.

“The Contrebandiers assemblage now replaces Blombos as the oldest bone tool assemblage and industry,” said study co-author Curtis Marean, who is a paleoanthropologist at Arizona State University

Dr. Emily Hallett, a postdoctoral fellow at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, was studying the vertebrate remains from the Contrebandiers Cave dating from 120,000 to 90,000. 

Among the 12,000 bone fragments that she investigated, Dr. Hallett discovered over 60 bones that had probably been shaped by humans for use as tools. She also identified patterns of cut marks on carnivore bones suggesting that the inhabitants of the Contrebandiers Cave were skinning them for fur rather than processing them for meat.

“The combination of carnivore bones with skinning marks and bone tools likely used for fur processing provide highly suggestive proxy evidence for the earliest clothing in the archaeological record, but given the level of specialization in this assemblage, these tools are likely part of a larger tradition with earlier examples that haven’t yet been found,” explained Dr. Hallett.   

“The Contrebandiers Cave bone tools demonstrate that by roughly 120,000 years ago, Homo sapiens began to intensify the use of bone to make formal tools and use them for specific tasks, including leather and fur working. This versatility appears to be at the root of our species and not a characteristic that emerged after expansions into Eurasia.”

In her future research, Hallett plans to collaborate with other researchers to possibly identify similar skinning patterns in different archeological records, in order to shed more light on the origins and diffusion of this uniquely human behavior. 

By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

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