Caveman Chic

Look: Ancient tools reveal how early humans made clothes

That fur cape is so last season.

Originally Published: 
Emily Yuko Hallett, 2009

Ever wonder what our ancient human ancestors used to wear?

The answer is a bit more complex than the shapeless tunics and simple dresses featured in The Flintstones.

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We do know that early humans and Neanderthals skinned animals to make garments that helped them weather cold climates.

But few artifacts from their well-aged wardrobes have been uncovered and analyzed.

Now, a stockpile of ancient bone tools unearthed in Morocco gives archaeologists insight into the origins of clothing.

Researchers described their findings in the peer-reviewed journal iScience on September 16.


Contrebandiers Project, 2009

An international team sifted through over 12,000 bone fragments from Contrebandiers Cave on the Atlantic Coast of Morocco.

In the end, they narrowed down just 62 pieces that appear to have been shaped into tools by humans.

Jacopo Niccolò Cerasoni
The tools date back 120,000 to 90,000 years ago.

They were found alongside the remains of foxes, jackals, and wildcats.

Emily Yuko Hallett, 2009

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Distinctive marks on the tools indicate that they were probably used for leather working and fur processing.

Learning how to make garments was no small feat — it likely enabled our species to move further north and weather colder climates.

Jacopo Niccolò Cerasoni

“This versatility appears to be at the root of our species, and not a characteristic that emerged after expansions into Eurasia.”

Here’s a simple diagram of how animal skins and furs were transformed into useable materials.

Jacopo Niccolò Cerasoni, 2021

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But the researchers also say that this likely isn’t the earliest incidence of our human ancestors making clothes.

It’s just the oldest find we’ve made so far.

Nick Hewetson/Dorling Kindersley RF/Getty Images

“Given the level of specialization in this assemblage, these tools are likely part of a larger tradition with earlier examples that haven’t yet been found.

Dr. Emily Hallett, lead study author

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