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25 May 2013
Who invented clothes?

Becky Wragg Sykes, a postdoctoral researcher working on Neanderthal archaeology, reveals some of the history of clothing.
     People were already making finely worked bone needles 20,000 years ago - probably as much for embroidery as for sewing animal skins. Thousands of ivory beads and fox teeth covered the bodies of a girl and a boy buried at Sunghir, Russia, around 28,000 years ago.
     We've known since the 1990s that people were weaving fabric back then, as revealed by impressions in baked clay from sites in the Czech Republic. We don't know for sure that these were used for clothes, but the materials were not heavy duty, and the variety in weaving styles suggests a long tradition. At Dzudzuana Cave in Georgia, 30,000 year old spun plant fibres were found which had been dyed pink, black and turquoise blue.
     There is physical evidence that Neanderthals were tanning animal skins more than 100,000 years ago. Although they lacked fine needles of the sort found much later, their abilities to make stone and wood tools were easily enough to produce a sharp piercing object for lacing.
     Further back in time things get really interesting. Body lice are adapted to living in clothes, so must have evolved after humans started to wear them, and DNA evidence suggests this happened at least 170,000 years ago.
     The earliest examples of jewellery keep getting pushed back in time: they currently stand at about 75,000 years ago, and maybe as much as 100,000 years ago. At one site in South Africa, we even have the first evidence of style as we know it, with a shift in the way shell beads were strung together over time. Beads aren't clothing in the strict sense, but they are a kind of fashion. Although we can't be sure exactly who wore the first clothes or when, the history of human adornment goes back a very long time.

Edited from The Guardian (20 May 2013)

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