Tag Archives: pre-history

Cro Magnon clothing.

Woven cloth dates back 27,000 years

By BBC News Online science editor Dr David Whitehouse

Woven clothing was being produced on looms 27,000 years ago, far earlier than had been thought, scientists say.

It had been thought that the first farmers developed weaving 5,000 to 10,000 years ago.

But Professor Olga Soffer, of the University of Illinois, is about to publish details in the journal Current Anthropology of 90 fragments of clay that have impressions from woven fibres.

Professor Soffer revealed some her findings recently when she said that a 25,000-year-old figurine was wearing a woven hat.

If confirmed, her work could change our understanding of distant ancestors, the so-called Ice Age hunters of the Upper Palaeolithic Stone Age.

Accidental imprint

The evidence was obtained from a number of sites in the Czech Republic.

They were the sporadic homes of the Gravettian people who roamed between Southern Russia and Spain between 22,000 and 29,000 years ago scratching out a living on a semi-frozen landscape.
Close-up, the impression left by the fibres is clearly visible

Some of the fibre impressions may have been made accidentally, such as by sitting on a fresh clay floor or when wet clay was carried in woven bags.

“Other impressions may have been caused by deliberate action, such as lining a basket with clay to make it watertight,” said Professor Soffer.

A detailed examination of the impressions reveals a large variety of weaving techniques. There are open and closed twines, plain weave and nets. Professor Soffer told BBC News Online that twining can be done by hand but plain weave needed a loom.

It may be that many stone artifacts found in settlements may not be objects of art as had been supposed but parts of an ancient loom, which should now be considered as the first machine to be made after the wheel and aids such as the axe, club, and flint knife.

Women’s work

This research could force a re-evaluation of our view of ancient man, who lived tens of thousands of years ago, before the last Ice Age had ended and before the invention of agriculture.

The traditional view is of the male Ice Age hunters working in groups to kill large prey such as mammoths. But this may be a distorted and incomplete view of their lives.

This imprint in clay may have been left by a woven basket
All that scientists have from these ancient times are mostly solid remains such as stone, ivory and bone. Now they have evidence of textiles.

The discovery that they developed weaving as early as 27,000 years ago means that we must consider the role that women and children may have played more carefully.

The possibility that they made nets has fascinating implications according to Professor Soffer. It may be that nets were used by women and children to catch small prey such as hares and foxes.

By catching food this way, women and children could have made all the difference to their communities’ food budgets, allowing a surplus to be generated that permitted society to grow.

Further revelations are to be expected in this area of research. There are recent reports that fragments of burnt textiles have been found adhering to pieces of flint.


Bone needles such as these have been found dating back to over 25,000 years old. As one specialist in this field, Olga Soffer, pointed out, they are in no way strong enough to punch their way through hide or leather, but they will go through cloth. The standard explanation to this before was that the hole must have been made by a stone tool and the needle only used to guide the thread. However, the existence of loomed cloth would now make it more likely that they were used in the conventional way. At least one buried body was covered with tiny beads, suggesting they were sewn onto fabric that disintegrated, leaving only the beads, as beads were often found sewn onto hide clothing in graves, sometimes in their thousands. The most likely source for the plant fiber is nettle, that was use into the medieval times in Europe to make clothing.

As you can see from this collection of paleolithic Venus figurines from Kostenki in Russia, some form of woven band around the neck and waist seemed to be common. The rear view of the first lady clearly shows a hat with hair beneath.The partial figure in limestone at the end seems to be wearing a pair of woven handcuffs. These clothes wouldn’t have had any functional value, they were probably more social signals.

This is an illustration of how the the Venus of Willendorf’s hat might of looked. It’s a crop from this site . There’s a common misconception that these people were wandering around in crude furs using clubs, but the evidence shows they were more like they were like the plains Indians in America, but slightly more advanced in cloth technology.


For example, string skirts, as can be seen very clearly under the huge buttocks of this Venus (Lespugue), have been worn until relatively recently in Europe. This picture is a replica of one dated 6,000 BC. The woven top section could have been made on a simple tablet loom, like the one shown next to it. They were worn until the bronze age for ceremonial gymnastics in Denmark, as seen in the burial of Egtved girl.


Up until recently in a few places in Eastern Europe, girls were expected to start wearing string skirts at puberty, and they weren’t allowed to wear them before. So it’s probably more a social or ritual signal of sexual maturity and fertility in these stone age art pieces.



Old news, the world’s first known ceremonial burial.

Evidence of earliest human burial
By Paul Rincon, BBC news archive. 

Scientists claim they have found the oldest evidence of human creativity: a 350,000-year-old pink stone axe.

The handaxe, which was discovered at an archaeological site in northern Spain, may represent the first funeral rite by human beings.

It suggests humans were capable of symbolic thought at a far earlier date than previously thought.

Spanish researchers found the axe among the fossilised bones of 27 ancient humans that were clumped together at the bottom of a 14-metre- (45 feet) deep pit inside a network of limestone caves at Atapuerca, near Burgos.

It is the only man-made implement found in the pit.

It may confirm the team’s belief that other humans deposited bodies in the pit deliberately.

 Special colour

Professor Eudald Carbonell, of the Rovira i Virgili University in Tarragona, Spain, and a key member of the team that unearthed the axe, was jubilant about the find.

“It’s a great discovery. This is an interpretation, but in my opinion and the opinion of my team, the axe could be the first evidence of ritual behaviour and symbolism in a human species,” Professor Carbonell said.

 “We conclude it could be from a funeral rite,” he added.

The axe is skilfully crafted from quartzite rock, which is abundant in the region.

Handaxes of this type are usually used for butchering animal carcasses for their meat. But the researchers claim the striking colour is crucial to its importance.

“It’s a very special colour,” said Juan Luis Arsuaga, director of the Atapuerca excavation. “They would have needed to search it out. I think this colour had some significance for [these humans],” he added.

The human remains belong to the species Homo heidelbergensis, which dominated Europe around 600,000-200,000 years ago and is thought to have given rise to both the Neanderthals and modern humans (Homo sapiens).

But some researchers, such as Peter Andrews, of the Natural History Museum in London, have proposed that the skeletons were lying elsewhere in the caves and sludged into the pit by a mudflow.

Abstract thinking

“I’m cautious about its significance,” said Professor Chris Stringer, also of the Natural History Museum. “The association of the handaxe and the skeletons in this pit of bones is a very interesting one,” adding that it was possible there was some sort of symbolic association.

“But one has to put some caution into [this announcement] because it has been suggested that this is a secondary deposit and therefore could be accidental,” he noted.

 But Arsuaga thinks it unlikely that so many human remains could have appeared in the pit in the absence of bones from other animals.

Previously, the earliest funeral rituals were thought to be associated with Neanderthal remains dated 100,000 years ago. But some researchers dispute the significance of these sites, preferring to believe that abstract thinking began around 50,000 years ago in modern humans.

Arsuaga and his colleagues found the handaxe in 1998, but decided to search for other stone tools in the pit before announcing the find. They have found none so far.

The research is published in the French journal L’Anthropologie.

The ‘humans began abstract thinking 50,000 years ago’ is ridiculous, as they’ve found jewellery made from ostrich egg shell at Lake Fezzan in Libya about 200,000 years old.