Prehistoric bone tools found in a Moroccan cave may be one of the earliest examples of a clothing production site. The tools, which date back about 120,000 years, were discovered at Contrebandiers Cave on the Atlantic coast of Morocco.
Approximately 12,000 bone fragments were discovered at the archaeological site with over 60 of them belonging to animals that were turned into tools that ancient humans could have used to process leather and fur.
In an interview with ScienceAlert, Emily Hallett, who is an anthropologist at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Germany, explained, “Organic materials such as leather and fur are extremely unlikely to preserve in deposits that are this old, so as archaeologists we are left with pieces of evidence that include tools and the bones from animals that preserve skinning marks,” adding, “We can put these pieces of evidence together and suggest that humans were using bone tools to prepare leather and fur that was likely used for clothing.”
While it’s quite probable that the leather was used for clothes, experts aren’t entirely certain as Hallett noted, “These bone tools could have been used to prepare leather for purposes other than clothing, such as storage devices.” On the other hand, clothing made from leather and fur would have been very beneficial to ancient humans who were migrating out of Africa into different climates.
The leather (and food) would have come from several bovid species as their remains were found in the cave as explained by Hallett, “Hartebeest, aurochs, and gazelle bones were found in high abundance in the cave, and these animals were also consumed by humans, because there are cut marks associated with meat removal on their bones.”
As for the fur, the experts found three carnivorous species with skinning marks on their remains – golden jackal, wildcat, and Rüppell’s fox. “The cut marks on these carnivore bones are restricted to areas where incisions are made for fur removal, and there are no cut marks on the areas of the skeleton associated with meat removal,” she said. Their study was published in the journal iScience where it can be read in full.
Some experts believe that the making of clothes began in Africa as far back as 170,000 years ago, so the tools found in Contrebandiers Cave could very well have been used to produce fur and leather clothing. A picture of one of the tools can be seen here.
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