A study published in the Journal of Human Evolution, suggests that humans have been wearing bear skins for protection from the weather for at least 300,000 years.
The study, published by researchers from the University of Tübingen, and the Senckenberg Centre for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment (SHEP) in Tübingen, examined traces of bones from a cave bear, found in the Schöningen archaeological site in Lower Saxony, Germany.
The bones show cut marks on the metatarsal and phalanx, an area with little meat for butchering. Instead, the researchers attribute the marks to the careful stripping of the skin, one of very few examples of exploitation from the Lower Palaeolithic, with only Boxgrove (United Kingdom) and Bilzingsleben (Germany) yielding bear bones also indicating skinning.
The Eurasian Lower Palaeolithic record does not show any evidence for the exploitation of bear meat; only Middle Palaeolithic sites, such as Biache-Saint-Vaast in France and Taubach in Germany yield evidence for the exploitation of both skin and meat from bear carcasses.
Previous research at Schöningen has revealed wooden hunting weapons (nine throwing spears, a thrusting lance, and two throwing sticks), along with the Schöningen mammalian skeletal assemblage. This has given clear indications of the exploitation of large herbivores for meat and marrow, bone for tool production, and now potentially skins.
“The find opens up a new perspective”, says Tübingen Professor Nicholas Conard, head of the Schöningen research project. “Animals were not only used for food, but their pelts were also essential for survival in the cold. The use of bear skins is likely a key adaptation of early humans to the climate in the north.”
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