It seems that survival in the Ice Age was mainly due to wearing jackets trimmed with wolverine fur, similar to the ones that protect the Inuits in Canada. The mystery of how Homo sapiens survived the Ice Age, while Neanderthals disappeared into evolutionary oblivion may lie in their choice of cold-weather clothing.
A new study suggest that our ancestors had invented cosy fur-lined coats similar to modern Parka jackets, while Neanderthals were left shivering in draughty capes. Archaeologists have long argued about why our species are the only surviving hominoids, even though others had similar-sized brains and were physically stronger.
Scientists in Scotland and Canada have found evidence that Neanderthals, who died out about 40,000 years ago, were not equipped with the cold-weather clothing needed to survive the Ice Age. Studies of early modern human campsites found the bones of furry creatures, such as rabbits, foxes and mink, which researchers believe were used to trim the inhabitants’ garments to stay warm.
Wolverine fossils were found at 56 early modern human sites. Arctic people still use the animals’ fur for ruffs on their Parkas. None was found at Neanderthal sites. ‘Wolverine fur is the best natural fur to use as a Parka ruff. It provides excellent protection from the wind, sheds hoarfrost, particularly well and is extremely durable,’ said lead author Mark Collard, Professor of Archelogy at the University of Aberdeen and a visiting Fellow at Simon Fraser University in B.C., Canada. ‘The impact of differences in Neanderthal and early modern human clothing could have been substantial.’
Bone needles and pelt scrappers have also been found at early modern human sites. Neanderthals show no evidence of knowing how to make closely fitted garments and are thought to have simply draped themselves with animal skins. Some archaeologists believe that Neanderthals may have worn nothing at all. Unsuitable clothing would not just have made life uncomfortable but would have stopped Neanderthals foraging further north and limited the daily ‘time window’ for hunting and gathering in the warmest part of the day.
‘Insufficient foraging would also have lowered their energy leading to a lower birth rate and increasingly small communities that were eventually unsustainable. As early modern humans moved into glacial Europe they would have adopted highly insulated specialised cold-weather clothing, involving multiple fitted garments made from well-tanned pliable hides,’ conclude the authors in the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology.
Science has become a subject that interests me more and more since it unravels issues that keep the mind alert and has, for me at least, a rejuvenating effect that old age badly needs from time to time to keep boredom and languidity at bay.