Archaeologists are suggesting that our early ancestors could have started making clothes using bone tools about 120,000 years ago. A new study published Thursday in the journal iScience says archaeologists have discovered ancient bone tools in a Moroccan cave that they believe were used to work leather and fur into garments between 90,000 and 120,000 years ago.
The items from Contrebandiers Cave, located roughly 800 feet from the Atlantic coastline in the town of Temara, seem to be the oldest-known evidence for clothing in the archaeological record, according to the study.
“I wasn’t expecting to find them. I was studying this assemblage initially to look at the animal bones to reconstruct the human diet,” said Emily Yuko Hallett, a postdoctoral scientist at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History’s Pan African Evolution Research Group.
“And when I was going through them — there were around 12,000 animal bones — I started to notice these bones that had a very different shape. It wasn’t a natural shape. And they had sheen on them, and they were shiny, and they had striations (grooves or scratches) on them,” Hallett, who was an author of the study, added.
Scientists have earlier suggested that Homo sapiens first started wearing garments around 170,000 years ago. However, making those garments reached advanced stages 50,000 years later, this current study shows.
The ancient bone tools found in the Contrebandiers Cave in Morocco were 62 in total, according to the researchers. “These bone tools have shaping and use marks that indicate they were used for scraping hides to make leather and for scraping pelts to make fur,” said Hallett.
“At the same time, I found a pattern of cut marks on the carnivore bones from Contrebandiers Cave that suggested that humans were not processing carnivores for meat but were instead skinning them for their fur.”
Researchers did not find any actual prehistoric clothing at the cave as fur, leather and other organic clothing materials are perishable items and largely not preserved. However, the study shows that the tools found were made during a period when the cave was occupied by members of our species from 120,000 years ago to 90,000 years ago.
It is unclear when the use of clothing began. But researchers believe that early humans like Neanderthals, who lived as far back as 400,000 years ago long before Homo sapiens, made clothing to protect themselves from the cold regions in which they lived.
However, for modern humans, clothing was not worn until at least 170,000 years ago in Africa, per the new research. And as fur and other organic materials generally are not preserved, it is still not known what those clothes made looked like or whether they were used for protection or for symbolic purposes.
Until this study, some of the oldest evidence for Homo sapiens clothing was bone needles about 45,000 to 40,000 years old from Siberia. The researchers in this new study surmise that our species made clothing thousands of years before the date of the tools found in the Moroccan cave but they have no evidence to back that.