Saturday, December 7, 2013

More Evidence For Neanderthal Clothing?

I've written two posts, one several years ago and one in September, to draw my readers' attention to evidence, provided by analysis of the DNA of human body lice, that the invention of clothing had to have occurred roughly 80,000 to 170,000 years ago, because body lice have been around that long and cannot live on unclothed humans.

Late last week, I found an article in the on-line archaeology magazine Past Horizons, discussing a different kind of evidence that also supports a date of 100,000 years or so for humankind's first clothes wearing.  The Past Horizons article discusses evidence from a site at Abri du Maras, Ardèche, France, which is believed to have been a Neanderthal settlement. The evidence in question is a number of slender, twisted plant fibers found near some stone artifacts.

The fibers are very small--about 0.7 mm in length.  However, these plant fibers were not twisted in their natural state, and merely scraping, boring, or performing other operations on the plants they came from would not, standing alone, resulted in these little twisted fibers. Thus, the researchers reason, they must have been twisted by the Neanderthals themselves, perhaps to make cord or string to use with tools, maybe even with the artifacts found in the same location. 

Of course, it's still a considerable leap from these little fibers to string or thread--which is what you need to create woven textiles.  But the antiquity of the body lice suggests that maybe Neanderthals made the leap from textile-as-tool to textile-for-clothing sooner than scientists concluded in the past.

I consider the Ardèche finds exciting, for finds like them are helping us rewrite and expand the history of how and when clothing was first made.  That is why I am interested in archaeology--since little else is available to aid us in ascertaining the origins of technology, including textile and clothing technology.