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Earliest evidence of human clothing discovered, study says

By newadmin / Published on Monday, 09 Jan 2023 23:56 PM / No Comments / 6 views

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The fossilized skeleton of a prehistoric cave bear is seen in the Natural History Museum at the College of Charleston in Charleston, S.C., on Friday, Nov. 8, 2013. Stone Age humans likely wore cave bear fur to keep warm, according to a new study. (AP Photo/Bruce Smith)

The fossilized skeleton of a prehistoric cave bear is seen in the Natural History Museum at the College of Charleston in Charleston, S.C., on Friday, Nov. 8, 2013. Stone Age humans likely wore cave bear fur to keep warm, according to a new study. (AP Photo/Bruce Smith)

AP

The poncho, a humble garment often seen on rain-soaked tourists, might just be the first-ever piece of clothing that humans wore.

In order to endure Europe’s frigid winters, Stone Age humans likely wrapped themselves in ponchos fashioned from cave bear skins, according to a study published in the Journal of Human Evolution on Dec. 23.

Researchers came to this conclusion after examining hundreds of prehistoric skeletal remains found in Schöningen, Germany, a small town about 120 miles west of Berlin.

“What we could actually show based on cut marks on cave bear bones, is that 300,000 years ago people were skinning bears,” Ivo Verheijen, one of the study’s coauthors, told McClatchy News. “The most plausible reason why people would skin a bear, is to use the pelt for protection against cold weather.”

The simplest way to use the pelt would be to “make one cut on the back and wear it like a poncho,” Verheijen said.

Bear-poncho
An artist’s depiction of early humans wearing cave bear skin ponchos for protection from the elements. Drawing from from University of Tübingen

The findings are significant because clothing does not preserve well over long time periods, meaning there is scant and conflicting evidence of Stone Age garments, according to the study.

Specific cut marks found on the bones of cave bears, which went extinct about 25,000 years ago, indicate that the animal was methodically skinned. A series of scrapes on phalanges, an area with little muscle tissue or nutritional value, point toward the skinning and butchering of bear paws, among other body parts.

Specialized tools were likely used to procure the hide, including scrapers and smoothers. Scrapers were employed to remove pieces of meat and tissue, and smoothers were used after to stretch the skin, turning it into a soft, flexible finished product.

The skins would’ve had “highly insulating properties,” according to Verheijen, allowing early humans to maintain their body temperatures in the face of cold weather and snow cover.

Creating these bear pelts, an undoubtedly valuable resource, may have been instrumental in allowing humans to survive the inhospitable conditions of Northern Europe, paving the way for their ancestors to settle the continent, according to the researchers.

Other prehistoric groups around the world likely wore bear pelts as well, including Native Americans. Their use was illustrated in the movie “The Revenant,” a film set in the uncharted wilderness of the American west, in which Leonardo DiCaprio wears a “similar type of bear poncho,” Verheijen said.

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