Quirks & Quarks

Fashion backward — Archaeologists find 120,000 year old tools for making clothes

Researchers describe the discovery of a treasure trove of tools that they believe were used to process leather and furs, and it just might be the oldest archaeological evidence of what our ancestors were wearing 120,000 years ago.

Bone tools are earliest evidence of clothing in the archeological record

Archaeologists excavate Contrebandiers Cave in Morocco. The cave's limestone walls contain a treasure trove of human remains, animal bones, and stone tools dating back 120,000 years ago. (Emily Yuko Hallett)

Archeologists working in Morocco have discovered a treasure trove of bone tools which they believe are the earliest evidence of clothing in the archeological record.

The items found at Contrebandiers cave include bones, stone tools, and human remains, and are believed to be between 90,000 and 120,000 years old. Out of the thousands of animal bones found at the site, 62 appeared to have been shaped into tools, including seven which were shaped like a spatula without a handle, and smoothed out along the edge.

Researcher Emily Yuko Hallett believes the tools were used to separate connective tissue from pelts and hides to make leather and fur.

This image shows a bone tool from Contrebandiers Cave, Morocco that was used for leather working 120,000 to 90,000 years ago. (Jacopo Niccolò Cerasoni)

In the study, the researchers also describe the remains of small carnivores found in the cave, which were cut in a way to remove their pelts whole. This is very different from how an animal would have been processed for food. The findings line up with genetic studies of clothing lice which suggest humans were possibly wearing clothes 170,000 years ago.

Hallett is a postdoctoral scientist at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Germany. Listen to her full interview with Quirks & Quarks host Bob McDonald at the link above.

Produced by Amanda Buckiewicz


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