Bone Discovery Suggests Humans Were Already Manufacturing Clothes 120,000 Years Ago

Scientists discovered what could be the earliest evidence of clothing manufacturing in a cave in Morocco. This discovery dates back to 120,000 years.
It is easy to forget about clothing and its origins. However, putting on an outfit at work at the beginning of the day is an integral part of being a human being today.

Emily Hallett, an anthropologist at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History (Germany), recently published a paper that outlined the Moroccan discovery.

Hallett and a group of researchers had been studying a number bone fragments discovered at the Contrebandiers Cave. This important archaeological site is located on the Atlantic coast in Morocco.

Hallett found more than 60 bones from animals that were shaped by humans to be used as tools out of the 12,000 bone fragments. The patterns of the cut marks found on the bones match those in other archaeological sites where tools were used to process leather.

A cave-made bone tool. (Jacopo Niccol Cerasoni, 2021)

Hallett explained to ScienceAlert that organic materials like fur and leather are very unlikely to be preserved in such old deposits. Therefore, archaeologists are left with evidence that includes tools and bones from animals that have skinning marks.

"We can connect these pieces of evidence and conclude that humans used bone tools to prepare leather, fur and fur that would likely be used for clothing."

It's important to note that the evidence isn’t conclusive. Hallett added that these bone tools could have been used for other purposes, such as to prepare leather for storage devices.

During this time, fur and leather clothing would have been very beneficial to humans. Early humans would have faced new environments and climatically extreme habitats as they expanded from Africa. The dispersal of people into new environments would have been made easier by the use of clothing and other tools.

The Contrebandiers Cave was home to fur-styling humans.

Carnivores had their furs prepared by bone tools. (Jacopo Niccol Cerasoni, 2021)

Hallett explained to ScienceAlert that there were three types of carnivores in the cave with skinning marks: Rppell’s fox and golden jackal.

"The carnivore bone cut marks are limited to fur removal areas, and the cut marks are absent from areas of the skeleton that are used for meat removal."

Several species of bovid were also found on the site, which is why it was used for leather.

Hallett added that "Hartebeests, aurochs and gazelle bones were abundant in the cave and were also eaten by humans because of cut marks associated meat removal on their bones."

Hallett believes, given their specialization, that they may be part of an older, larger tradition. This is supported by genetic studies that have been done on clothing lice by other people. They suggest that clothing originated in Africa at least 170,000 years old.

Hallett stated that these tools were most likely used to make clothing. He also noted that both the genetic and archaeological evidence point to an African origin.

Unknown sites may still be present in Africa, waiting for tools and evidence to illuminate the history of clothing manufacturing in Africa.

The study was published by iScience.