Hallmarks of Stone Age Clothing
- Lower Paleolithic
- no evidence of clothing
- Middle Paleolithic
- draped animal hides, sometimes bound with sinew
- Upper Paleolithic
- animal hides punched with awls and sewn with sinew and bone needles
- animal hides punched with awls and then sewn with sinew and bone needles
- animal hides punched with awls and sewn with sinew and bone needles, first appearance of woven plant fiber textiles
Significant Costume-Specific Inventions of the Stone Age
The Stone Age can be broken down into smaller periods of development (Click on images to englarge):
Paleolithic (Old Stone Age) 2 million BC – 13,000 BC
Most societies were of the nomadic hunter-gatherer type.
The Lower Paleolithic is age-home to Australopithecus, who was making the first fractured stone tools over 1 million years ago. He is followed some 500,000 years later by Homo Erectus, who crafted tools by chipping or ‘knapping’ stone. There is no direct evidence (such as clothing remnants, tools or artifacts) that Australopithecus and Homo Erectus (or those in between) wore clothing, though scientists continue to debate whether or not they could have survived in certain climates without.
It is only through the study of impliments left behind and the places early humans lived and worked that we know about what they did or did not wear. Early materials from which clothing was made are perishable and could not survive long, leaving us with no record of design or placement of these earliest garments.
The Middle Paleolithic was the time of the Neanderthal who wore clothing made of animal hides draped around the body and probably bound in place with sinew. Neanderthals did not create any surviving artwork and did not leave behind any evidence of loom or needle.
Neanderthals did tan their hides, however, as uncured hides are smelly and prone to rotting. A number of tanning methods were developed – placing raw hides in the sun, salting hides, smoking hides, chewing hides – all of which achived the goal of making a hide more suitable for clothing or shelter. Some scientists have hypothesized that even urine was used for tanning. Many dispute that fact since the first time something tanned with urine was rained on or sweated in, the resulting odor would have been less than pleasant. Evenutally a technique called ‘brain tanning’ in which the oils from animal brains were used to make a raw hide into a soft, velvety wearble skin. Later, a process called vegetable tanning was developed in which hides were submerged in pools with vegetable matter in them – tannins. The type of tanning used varied by location and resources as well as contacts with other groups.
Neanderthal burial sites sometimes contained the pigment ochre, a naturally red- or yellow-tinted clay, and could have been the first intentional manipulation of color. Scientists suspect that Neanderthals also created dyes and paints with which to decorate themselves. Some say that the use of color in burial sites may have been incidental, as ochre has anti-microbial properties and could have been used to slow decay or lessen unpleasant odors. This could have been the reason that some Neanderthal-era hides appear to have been treated with ochre during the tanning process.
As a result, it has been speculated that Neanderthals may have been the first to dye or bleach hides. A bleaching detergent can be made from stale urine which can render a hide white. Next, a dye made from ochre can be applied which would render an ochre red or ochre yellow hide. This would have been a rather long, somewhat difficult process and most likely hides of a special color would have been used for special occasions such as ceremonies or for individuals of special rank.
Neanderthals may have been the first to wear shoes, although studies of toes bones of older species indicate that they, too, may have worn shoes.
“All people living in very cold climates had to wear some kind of thermal protection on their feet, including Neanderthals and their predecessors. (Supportive footwear) was part of a major explosion in human technology and cultural complexity, especially after 30,000 years ago.”(Trinkaus, Erik from an interview with By Jennifer Viegas, Discovery News, Aug. 19, 2005)
The oldest direct evidence of the use of shoes, however, are Native American sandals from about 5000 BC. Like all skins and hides, those that were used to create earlier footwear have been lost to the sands of time. The only way scientists know that early humankind were wearing shoes is from the study of toe bones. Apparently the shape and placement of foot bones began to change 40,000-30,000 years ago. Shoes reduce the stress placed on lesser toes and cause them to do less work. This made them different from the toes of earlier humans, who had strong, well-developed toes that came from gripping surfaces without the aid of footwear.
Due to the ravages of time, the shape and design of the earliest footwear have been lost. “While we have no evidence for sewing before some 30,000 years ago or so, that does not mean that people did not wear clothing — aka body coverings — before, just likely not sewn clothes. The same is likely for footwear.” (Soffer, Olga from an interview with By Jennifer Viegas, Discovery News, Aug. 19, 2005)
Experts think that the one outstanding feature common to early shoes are stiff soles. Early leather and/or fur shoes were one-piece affairs without separate uppers. Scientists have also found evidence of grass sandals, bark shoes and sandals, leather sandals or fur boots, depending on climate. There is reason to believe that some of the earliest shoes were a combination of leggings and sandals, much to the effect of ‘footsie’ pajamas.
During the Upper Paleolithic, Cro-Magnon man replaces the Neanderthal. Cro-Magnons were physiologically almost identical to modern man. Their clothing was most often made of tanned animal hides, punched with a stone or bone awl and then sewn together with a bone needle. There is the suggestion that they also knew how to make woven clothing from grass, especially those in warmer climates. Cro-Magnons were known to wear jewelry made of shells, animal teeth, flowers, feathers & bone. They also used dyes made from minerals and plants to paint or tattoo their bodies.
They were cave-painters, though they lived in huts. They are responsible for most of what we recognize as ‘cave-man’ art, such as the cave paintings in Lascaux, France. They were also adept at carving ivory, bone and wood and they crafted pottery which they then sun-fired.
Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age) 13,000 BC – 8000 BC
Most societies were still nomadic, however there were some more permanent settlements in areas where certain food resources were more plentiful, such as fishing camps. The first use of the fishing net occurs in the Mesolithic. Agricultural societies began to develop towards the end of this era. Global climate changes caused food to become more abundant worldwide. The dog is domesticated.
The best characterization of this era is the widespread use of smaller stone tools known as microliths. Fishing tackle, small stone axes and adzes are all examples of microliths. They were more delicately formed than their Paleolithic counterparts. Also of note are canoes and other ways of traversing waterways that have been discovered from this time period.
Mesolithic societies continued to craft sewn clothing from the tanned hides of animals, probably a little more deftly than their predecessors. No evidence of textiles from this period exist in Europe.
Neolithic (New Stone Age) 6000 BC – 3000 BC
The wheel is invented (5000 BC). Humans tame livestock animals and cultivate fiber crops which leads to the development of weaving and other textile production methods. The use of copper is first developed in this age. Polishing and grinding methods are developed to refine stone and horn tools.
Fibers of a vegetative nature appear to be the first used in production of early textiles in Europe. Since vegetable fibers cannot be used to make felt, it is logical to assume that weaving and/or spinning were developed in tandem with the use of vegetable fibers such as linen or grass. Once fibers have been spun into thread, twine or yarn, it is possible to weave them by hand or by loom.
In the Neolithic era grass, bark and other course plant fibers were woven into various forms of protection from the elements and could also be used for insulation inside other garments. Capes of grass provided shelter from snow or rain – prehistoric raincoats. Plant fiber ropes and twine also appear in this era.
The first evidence of woven linen (flax) cloth dates back to the early 6th millennium BC in Turkey, but Western Europe did not produce any known flaxen cloth until about 3000 BC. Also found in Turkey is evidence of some of the first known fiber-dying. Red-dyed thread from 6000 BC was found at Catal Huyuk.
The recent discovery (1998) of a piece of preserved linen cloth in a burial mound in Central Moravia exhibits extraordinarily fine craftmanship. It likely dates back to 3800 BC.
At Swiss ‘lake dwelling’ archeological sites (3000 BC), pieces of well-made flax cloth with elaborately fringed areas and overall patterns have been found. In addition a small amount of spun thread was found at the same location suggesting that cloth production was rather developed in that area. There is also evidence that the linen made in this area was dyed in patterns.
Also around 3000 BC, Neolithic residents of Adaouste, France left fragments of cloth dyed with kermes, a brilliant red or purple dye obtained from beetles native to Southern Europe.
Although sheep fibers (wool) were being used in Iraq for felted and woven textiles by about 3000 BC, it is not until the Bronze Age that there is any evidence of woven textiles made of wool in Europe. In fact textile production in general does not seem to be a major endeavor in Europe until well into the Bronze Age.
The reason for this may lie in the fact that the domestic sheep, bearer of wool fibers, did not yet posess its full fluffy coat during the Neolithic. The oldest sheep bones in Britain date back to 3700 BC, but this ancestor of the modern sheep likely had “a short hairy, outer coat composed of bristly fibres knows as kemps which obscure an even shorter, fine woolly undercoat” (Ryder 1981). Short, course fibers are not suitable for spinning and are not great for felting. Therefore it was only after the domestication and selective breeding of sheep that man was able to harvest fiber from the animal.
Some Neolithic garment fragments still exist today, allowing us a glimpse of clothing design of the era.
Tops could be squarish and bag-like with holes for the head and arms. There is some debate as to whether people used sleeves and what kinds of sleeves were used, but it seems likely that sleeves were roughly rectangular and were sewn into simple arm holes.
Trousers as we know them were not yet invented. Early humans either wore skirt-like garments such as long tunics and dresses or wore a tunic with leggings and a loincloth. A loincloth was most commonly tucked into a belt at the waist, wrapped under the nether-regions of the body and then tucked into the waist again. Leggings were simply hides wrapped around the legs and held in place with sewn stitches. For a look at a complete Neolithic outfit, recreated from mummified remains, see below.
Shoes were more complex by the Neolithic and could provide excellent protection to wearers, some shoes rivalling modern hiking boots in comfort and performance. Separate soles and uppers were more common than in previous eras, but the dominant shoe style was still a single piece of leather formed into a shoe as follows:
“In the course of time the basic form of the one piece shoe changes, becoming a little more complicated. The oldest form is an oval with slits around the margin. The shoe was bound around the instep by a leather string threaded through the slits. Impressions in the leather point to an additional binding around the foot . This form is seen in shoes dating from the Neolithic and Early to Middle Bronze Age.”(Groenman-van Waateringe, Willy 2001)
This one-piece shoe is often referred to as a European ‘bag shoe’ or as the ‘Buinerveen Shoe’, so named for the place in the Netherlands in which it was discovered.
Otzi the Ice Man
A 5,300 year-old (Neolithic) mummified corpse (nicknamed Otzi) found in the Austrian-Italian Alps in 1991 was discovered wearing “leggings, loincloth and jacket made of deer and goat hide; a cape made of grass and the bark of the linden tree; a hat of bearskin; shoes insulated with grass, with bearskin soles and goatskin uppers.” (McKie, Robin for The Observer Sunday May 4, 2003)
Here’s what he might have looked like:
Design & Details of the Ice Man’s Garments
All the text & images for this section are from http://mr_sedivy.tripod.com/iceman4.html
The shirt was made of long, rectangular strips of skin that were joined by over-sewing on the inside, with animal sinews used as thread. The different colored vertical strips of skin may have been intended as a pattern.
No pieces of the shoulders of the garment were recovered, so there is some speculation as to whether the Iceman’s shirt had sleeves. The upper garment likely reached down to the Iceman’s knees.
Originally about three feet long, the Iceman’s loincloth consisted of long, narrow strips of goat hide joined by over-sewing with animal sinews. The loincloth would have been drawn between the Iceman’s legs and fastened at the front and back with a belt.
The Iceman wore leg protection that covered the thighs and lower legs, therefore not really a pair of trousers. The leggings were made of goat hide with a deerskin strap sewn onto one end that could be tied down when doing up the shoes, preventing the leggings from riding up. Similar loincloths and leggings were also worn by North American Indians well into the 19th century.
Interior Construction os Otzi’s Shoes
When Iceman was recovered, the right shoe was still on the mummy’s foot. The shoe consists of an oval leather sole with turned up edges that were held in place using a leather thong. A woven net of grass was attached on the inside to hold hay in place acting as protection against the cold.
The Iceman’s shoe was closed with a leather upper that was attached to the sole using another leather thong. The shaft around the ankle was bound with grass filaments to prevent moisture from getting into his shoes. The soles of the shoes were made of brown bear skin. The uppers were make of deerskin and were closed using shoe laces.
Since there are no sign of fasteners, it is assumed that the Iceman’s upper garment was closed with a belt. Fragments of the Iceman’s belt, made of calf leather, show that his belt was originally about six feet long, therefore reaching around his hips twice. A piece of sewn-on leather formed a small pouch that contained five items including a drill, scraper, and a flint flake. A black mass of tinder fungus filled most of the bag. Traces of pyrites were found indicating that lumps of pyrite were used by the Iceman to create sparks.
Bearskin headgear was discovered during the second examination of the site. The Iceman’s cap was made of the pelt of a brown bear and had two leather thongs attached to the lower rim for the purpose of tying it under the chin.
The Iceman’s cloak was made of long stalks of Alpine grass and was open at the front. The original length is thought to have been about 90 cm and would have covered the Iceman’s entire torso and his thighs. Some Alpine shepherds wore grass and straw cloaks for rain protection into the 20th century.
Links & Sources
Ryder, M.J. 1981. ‘Livestock products:skins and fleeces’ Farming practice in british prehistory. Edinburgh. University Press.
Groenman-van Waateringe, Willy. “THE RECONSTRUCTION OF THE ICEMAN’S SHOES REVISED.” 2001.Groenman-van Waateringe, Willy. 3 April 2005 .
Human prehistory can be divided into three major ‘ages’ – Stone Age, Bronze Age and Iron Age – which can be further subdivided. The dates of these ages can differ according to location. Since we are beginning our discussion of clothing in Europe, we will use the following dates to delineate these ages:
Stone Age – 2 million years ago until 3000 BC
Bronze Age – 3000 BC until 1500 BC
Iron Age – 1500 BC until 1000 BC (later in Northern Europe)