David Reed  (Source: Jeff Gage, Florida Museum of Natural History)
Researchers concluded that it was 170,000 years ago

University of Florida researchers have discovered that humans first started wearing clothes approximately 170,000 years ago by tracing the evolution of lice. 

David Reed, study leader and associate curator of mammals at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the University of Florida campus, along with Melissa Toups, co-author from Indiana University who was previously with the University of Florida, and Andrew Kitchen, co-author from Pennsylvania State University who used to be with the University of Florida as well, have found than humans started wearing clothes 170,000 years ago in order to migrate out of Africa. 

Researchers were able to come to this conclusion by tracing the evolution of lice. Lice are used in this particular study because they "stranded on lineages of hosts" over long periods of time. Changes in the parasite allow researchers to understand changes in evolutionary time. 

"We wanted to find another method for pinpointing when humans might have first started wearing clothing," said Reed. "Because they are so well adapted to clothing, we know that body lice or clothing lice almost certainly didn't exist until clothing came about in humans."

In 2003, Mark Stoneking, a geneticist at the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, Germany, conducted a lice study that concluded that humans first began wearing clothes approximately 107,000 years ago. Now the University of Florida researchers are saying otherwise. 

Researchers used unique data sets from lice and human evolution in order to make their new estimate of 170,000 years. University of Florida researchers concluded that modern humans began wearing clothes 70,000 years before migrating to higher latitudes and cooler climates. This migration occurred about 100,000 years ago. Also, the study found that humans began wearing clothes way after losing their body hair, which was about 1 million years ago according to genetic skin-coloration research. 

"It's interesting to think humans were able to survive in Africa for hundreds of thousands of years without clothing and without body hair, and that it wasn't until they had clothing that modern humans were then moving out of Africa into other parts of the world," said Reed.  

This new study does have a few weak spots though, because archaic hominins did not leave behind clothing lice that could participate in the study as well. So this study does not take into account that archaic hominins outside of Africa could have been clothed somehow around 800,000 years ago. These archaic humans were able to live for generations outside of Africa while only modern humans stayed until clothing was invented. 

"The things that may have made us much more successful in that endeavor hundreds of thousands of years later were technologies like the controlled use of fire, the ability to use clothing, new hunting strategies and new stone tools," said Reed. 

Ian Gilligan, lecturer in the School of Archaeology and Anthropology at The Australian National University, noted that modern humans probably began making clothing after experiencing Ice Age conditions 180,000 years ago. 

"The new result from this lice study is an unexpectedly early date for clothing, much older than the earliest solid archaeological evidence, but it makes sense," said Gilligan. "It means modern humans probably started wearing clothes on a regular basis to keep warm when they were first exposed to Ice Age conditions." 

"Young lady, in this house we obey the laws of thermodynamics!" -- Homer Simpson

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