A new study of body lice reveals that humans started wearing clothes 70,000 years ago. And ever since, stores have been trying to sell us winter coats in August?but that may finally be changing.
“I can’t face winter coats in August,” says shopper Rachael Rawson, and most of us feel the same way. Dina ElBoghdady writes in the Washington Post that stores have finally started listening, probably because they haven’t been able to sell any of them during this year’s record heatwave.
“Now back-to-school practically looks like beachwear,” says retail consultant David Wolfe. “It’s got to be wear-now to sell now. The only area that still seems to operate on the old, unrealistic calendar is high-fashion designer wear and those women who really do buy a winter coat in July. But the rest of the world is getting closer and closer to instant gratification.”
Maggie Fox writes that scientists want to know when humans first donned clothing, but while pottery and stone tools last for a long time, clothing quickly decays. Anthropologist Mark Stoneking got the idea of looking for lice when his son brought a note home from school. “It was one of those notices where they let parents know some kid in the classroom has come down with head lice,” Stoneking says. “One of the points it made was that you only get head lice from other humans?you can’t get them from your dog, your cat, etc. And lice cannot survive more than 24 hours away from the human body?It seems fairly obvious that the body louse arose when humans made frequent use of clothing.”
Stoneking found out when body lice evolved by looking at the DNA found in their mitochondria cells, and was able to date human lice back 70,000 years ago. We first emigrated out of Africa around 10,000 years ago, so it must have taken us about 30,000 years to reach a cold climate.
And that’s when we started needing winter coats?but please, not in August. This year’s heatwave has finally made retailers wake up. Sears won’t carry sweaters until October, The Express is still stocking tank tops, and Old Navy will keep their flip-flops in stock.
As for Stoneking, he’s moved on to studying pubic lice, also known as “crabs.” He thought they might tell him humans lost their heavy body hair. “But I found out that entomologists and taxonomists pretty much are united in agreeing that human pubic lice are more related to gorilla lice than to head lice,” he says. “I don’t want to speculate on what our ancestors were up to, to get gorilla lice in the pubic area.”
Fashionable she was not, but Mary Magdalene was one of the most important women in history.
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