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Bone fragment reveals humans wore leather clothes 39,000 years ago

By: April Carson

A team of archaeologists has unearthed a remarkable discovery that could rewrite the timeline for early advances in fashion. Research-based on a bone from ancient Spain reveals that approximately 39,600 years ago, Homo sapiens used leather in Europe. The bone has a peculiar pattern of notches suggesting that it was used to create holes in the leather.

This suggests that humans from the Upper Palaeolithic period in Europe had more sophisticated leather-making skills than previously assumed. The finding provides additional evidence for humans wearing leather clothes as early as 40,000 years ago and could even change our understanding of the development of human technology.

New Scientist reported that a bone was discovered at Terrasses de la Riera dels Canyars near Barcelona, Spain. The bone came from a large animal resembling a horse or bison and had 28 puncture marks on its flat surface. These included a row of 10 holes spaced around 5 millimeters apart, as well as other holes arranged more randomly.

According to Luc Doyon, who led the study at the University of Bordeaux in France, we have limited information about clothes because they are perishable. As an early technology, our knowledge about clothes is lacking. This bone fragment provides a unique glimpse into ancient technology, as it is believed to be evidence of the earliest known example of leatherworking.

Doyon found this pattern to be "highly intriguing" because it didn't appear to be a decoration or a tally used for counting, which are the usual reasons for intentionally adding lines or dots to prehistoric artifacts. The researchers that the holes were likely used to sew a leather garment together.

To back up this conclusion, Doyon and his team used electron microscopy to examine microscopic residue on the edges of the fragment. They found traces of proteins from collagen – a key component in leather – which indicated that it was indeed part of a leather garment.

After conducting a microscopic examination, the researchers confirmed that a single tool was responsible for creating the line of 10 indents, while the other dots were created at different times by five different tools. They used experimental archaeology, a method that involves using historical tools to recreate markings and understand their formation.

Through this experiment, the researchers were able to gain insight into the crafting process of leather clothing 39,000 years ago. They discovered that it required precise and careful craftsmanship which involved cutting pieces of leather with stone tools.

Experts suggest that the indents were most likely created during the production or repair of leather goods. To create a tight seam, a hole is pierced into the animal hide, and a pointed tool is then used to force a thread through the material.

According to Ian Gilligan from the University of Sydney, the discovery is very important because there is no concrete evidence for clothing in the Pleistocene era. Therefore, any indirect evidence found is valuable. Currently, the oldest known surviving cloth fragments date back to approximately 10,000 years ago.

What’s even more interesting is that the evidence suggests humans during this time may have had a sophisticated understanding of leatherworking. Although the fragment from Klasies River Mouth Cave is small, it contains numerous intricate details which suggest that ancient humans were already quite advanced in their craftsmanship.

The discovery helps to explain how prehistoric people created fitted clothing despite the absence of strong needles that could penetrate thick leather 26,000 years ago. Around 42,000 years ago, Homo sapiens migrated to Europe. A study discovered a leather fragment, which is 39,000 years old. This is 13,000 years older than the invention of the eyed needle. Therefore, it is possible that H. sapiens had other methods of making tailored clothing before the creation of needles.

The discovery suggests that in prehistoric times, humans were skilled in creating and customizing leather clothing using limited resources. This demonstrates their early interest in fashion and self-expression, which remains today. It's certain that even 39,000 years ago, our ancestors were fashion-forward. Studying the leather fragment can help us better understand how people dressed in the past and gain insight into our ancestors’ ingenuity.

The study shows how early humans were resourceful in using available materials. The leather fragment is evidence that they used creative methods to make clothing, even if the process was basic.

The finding also gives insight into the fact that humans of this time could work together in groups to accomplish tasks. They must have worked cooperatively to prepare and shape the leather, which was no small feat.

The recent discovery highlights that our ancestors were highly skilled and imaginative, something that we can all learn from. It's a captivating memory that fashion has always been an integral part of human history and is ever-present. We can look to our past and see how the craft has changed over time, and yet still possess a thread of continuity that connects us all.

The study was published in the journal Scientific Reports on April 12th.

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April Carson is the daughter of Billy Carson. She received her bachelor's degree in Social Sciences from Jacksonville University, where she was also on the Women's Basketball team. She now has a successful clothing company that specializes in organic baby clothes and other items. Take a look at their most popular fall fashions on

To read more of April's blogs, check out her website! She publishes new blogs on a daily basis, including the most helpful mommy advice and baby care tips! Follow on IG @bossbabymav



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