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Researchers reveal the real reason why humans are choosing to wear clothes since the ice age

Humans have been wearing some form of clothing to cover their bodies since the ice age and a new study reveals the actual reason behind it.

Researchers reveal the real reason why humans are choosing to wear clothes since the ice age
Representative Cover Image Source: Pexels | Mart Production, Live Science | Ivo Verheijen

The human body has gone through several changes due to evolution. Evolving from our ape-like ancestors to losing the fur on the body, walking upright and learning how to move from a hunter-gathering to a civilized settlement took several millennia. However, have you ever wondered when was the first time humans decided to clothe themselves to stay safe from the natural elements like heat, cold and rain? Scientists are always looking for more answers regarding this question since clothes do not last as long as artifacts made of various minerals and stones.

Image Source: Evolution of Man (Photo by The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images)
Image Source: Evolution of Man (Photo by The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images)

"We tried to understand what changes have happened in lice evolutionary history that might be correlated with loss of body hair in humans and then the subsequent acquisition of clothing use in humans," David Reed, a biologist at the University of Florida, told Live Science. When the ancient humans lost the excess hair all over their bodies, the lice in their hair started roaming all over them. The genetic study of humans indicates that our ancestors lost all their hair around 1.2 million years ago. However, the lice evolved and were then capable of inhabiting human clothing and various fibers.

Image Source: Photomicrograph of the Phthirus pubis (crab louse), found in human hair, 1975. Image courtesy World Health Organization (WHO). (Photo by Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images)
Image Source: Photomicrograph of the Phthirus pubis (crab louse), found in human hair, 1975. Image courtesy World Health Organization (WHO). (Photo by Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images)

"They feed one time a day on average—they kind of engorge themselves, which is gross—and then they retreat to the clothing, where it's safe," Reed said. He also estimated that ancient humans started wearing simple clothes around 170,000 years ago, during the second-to-last ice age. However, evidence from a group of our ancestors called hominins indicates that ancient humans might have been wearing clothing much earlier than scientists estimated. According to Science Direct, marks on bear bones found at the Paleolithic site of Schöningen in Germany suggest that hominins, possibly Homo heidelbergensis, wore bear skins to keep warm around 300,000 years ago, according to research published by Ivo Verheijen, a doctoral candidate at the University of Tübingen in Germany.

Image Source: Three Selish Indians, 1855/1869. U-ná-sits (a warrior who had taken five scalps) with Oó-na (in tunic made of bear skin) and Sée-cha (wife of the warrior) on the coast of the Pacific, British Columbia. 1855. Artist George Catlin. (Photo by Heritage Art/Heritage Images via Getty Images)
Image Source: Three Selish Indians, 1855/1869. U-ná-sits with Oó-na (in a tunic made of bear skin) and Sée-cha (wife of the warrior) on the coast of the Pacific, British Columbia. 1855. Artist George Catlin. (Photo by Heritage Art/Heritage Images via Getty Images)

"If you want to take off the skin of an animal, the cut marks you leave behind most are on the ribs, on the skull, and the hands and feet. And that's exactly what we found in Schöningen," Verheijen told the outlet. "We started comparing that to other sites from more or less the same period, and they also have cut marks on the hands and feet and the skulls. So, it seems to be a pattern around this period that people were exploiting bears for their skins." Verheijen also suggests that the temperature back in the time used to drop to 2 degrees Celsius and in the cold, people were likely using the bearskin to keep themselves warm.

"People had to be active to collect food around the landscape," Verheijen added. "So, some type of clothing must have been necessary to be able to survive here." Now, the real question is, if the evidence of clothes comes from 300,000 years ago and lice inhabiting clothes didn't evolve until 170,000 years ago, what happened during the period between them? "Lice as evidence can only measure when humans were wearing clothes on a very regular basis because the lice have to feed on human skin regularly," Ian Gilligan, an honorary associate in the School of Humanities at The University of Sydney, told the outlet.



 

"So if someone dons a garment one day and then doesn't use the garment for another week, the lice aren't going to survive," he added. "There are probably other head lice that infested the clothes off and on at many stages over the last, you know, million years," Gilligan said. "The hide scraper tools and the bone awls from 12,000 years ago to midway through the Holocene [11,700 years ago to present]—those tools just disappeared from the archaeological record," Gilligan said. He also noted that "they elaborately decorated their bodies, they colored their hair, they painted themselves, they had scarification, so they didn't need clothes." The existence of lice and the research related to the clothing materials are also covered by the Florida Museum on YouTube.

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