A collection of carnivore bones found in Contrebandiers Cave, Morocco, was initially believed to be the remnants of Pleistocene people’s meals, but when archaeologists examined them further to find out what the cave’s early inhabitants were eating, they discovered that the animals had been skinned for their fur and used to make clothes.
Excavations in Contrebandiers Cave from 2007 to 2010 found 62 bone tools used for leather and fur manufacture in Middle Stone Age layers dated to between c.120,000 and c.90,000 years ago. All of these bones show signs of deliberate shaping and use marks, indicating that they had been made into tools for scraping hides to make leather and scraping pelts to make fur.
Also found in the cave were the bones of wildcats, golden jackals, and sand foxes, bearing cut marks that indicate they had been skinned for their fur using techniques that are still in use today. Other animal remains also found in the cave, belonging to bovids, show different marks, suggesting that they had been processed for meat instead.
Previous studies based on genetic studies of clothing lice have suggested that clothing was being made by modern humans at least 170,000 years ago in Africa. But not much is known about the development of this tradition because of the scarcity of organic materials in the archaeological record, especially from deposits over 100,000 years old. The new study provides highly suggestive proxy evidence for the earliest creation of clothing from furs and hides in the archaeological record. However, the level of specialisation found in the tools in this assemblage implies that they are part of a larger tradition, and developed from earlier examples that have not yet been discovered.
Also found in the cave was the tip of a cetacean tooth that seems to have been worked by humans, dating to c.113,000 years ago, representing the first evidence for human use of marine mammal teeth, and further highlighting the complex culture of the occupants of Contrebandiers Cave in the Middle Stone Age.
The results of this research have been published in the journal iScience.