When did humans first start wearing clothes? © Getty Images

When did humans first start wearing clothes?

We’ve teamed up with the folks behind BBC World Service’s CrowdScience to answer your questions on one topic - this week it's all about when humans started wearing clothes.

To expand into the cold hinterlands of Europe and Asia, our ancestors needed to keep warm. The earliest possible evidence for clothing in ancient humans is stone tools found at archaeological sites like Gran Dolina in the Spanish Atapuerca Mountains (associated with Homo antecessor and dated to around 780,000 years ago), or in Schöningen in Germany (Homo heidelbergensis, around 400,000 years ago), which may have been used to prepare animal hides.

Advertisement

We see clearer evidence from the Neanderthals, who lived as far back as 400,000 years ago: the pattern of musculature on Neanderthal arms suggests that they habitually carried out tasks like hide preparation. Despite having bodies that were more cold-adapted than ours, a 2012 study estimated that Neanderthals may have needed to cover up to 80 per cent of their bodies to survive the harsh winters.

In modern humans, (Homo sapiens), the adoption of clothing may have left its traces on some hangers-on: a 2011 study suggested that clothing lice began to genetically diverge from human head lice around 170,000 years ago, proposing a date for when we started to wear clothes.

During winter, we probably needed to cover as much as 90 per cent of the body, which may be why we developed more modern-looking clothing than the fur cloaks that Neanderthals are suggested to have worn. By around 40,000 years ago, we were using needles and awls, made out of bone and stone, to create sewn, fitted clothes to keep us warm.

Read more:

Advertisement