Wednesday, March 11, 2015

When did Humans Start Wearing Clothes?

            P. humanus capitus       Phthirus pubis        Pediculus humanus corporis
                 (Head louse)              (Pubic louse)                      (Body louse)

This is an interesting question because clothes aren’t found in the fossil record but are an important accessory that helped humans expand their range out of Africa. Two groups of scientists have been clever at trying to look at when humans started wearing clothing by examining the evolution of clothing (body) lice which evolved from head lice.  The human louse, Pediculus humanus, has two distinct subspecies. P. humanus capitis are head lice which live in hair on the head while P. humanus corporis are body lice which feed on the human body but live in clothing. (The human pubic louse, Phthirus pubis, originated from gorilla lice and is another interesting story in itself!)  Using a molecular clock analysis from mitochondrial and nuclear DNA segments, a German group came up with 72,000  ± 42,000 years ago for the origin of body lice and an American group estimated it at 83,000 to 170,000 years ago.  These dates suggest that clothing originated in Africa during the Middle to Late Pleistocene which correlates with the spread of humans out of Africa.


German study Kittler et al.

American study Toups et al.

Info. on all three groups of human lice

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