A new, very cool paper by some colleagues of mine, David Reed
(Curator of Mammals, U Florida) and Jessica Light
(Curator of Mammals, Texas A&M) and co-authors, suggests that
humans started wearing clothes about 170,000 years ago, much
earlier than previously thought.
How did they figure that out?
There are three kinds of lice found on humans, body lice, head lice, and
(aka crabs). Head lice (aka cooties) and body lice (aka clothing
lice) are two closely related subspecies that live on different
parts of the human body and have different enviromental
requirements. Head lice lay eggs on hair shafts while body
lice have adapted to using clothing for egg laying. Dave and
Jessica used the body lice as a proxy for human clothing.
According to their estimates, head and body lice diverged
from each other between 83,000-170,000 years ago. The
divergence may have been initiated by body lice being able to
exploit a new "habitat".......clothing. The lice divergence date
can be used indirectly to estimate when humans started to wear
clothing, the new habitat that body lice invaded.
Popular write-up here at
Science Daily, journal article in Molecular
Biology and Evolution.