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, 28 (1), 29-32

Origin of Clothing Lice Indicates Early Clothing Use by Anatomically Modern Humans in Africa

Origin of Clothing Lice Indicates Early Clothing Use by Anatomically Modern Humans in Africa

Melissa A Toups et al. Mol Biol Evol.


Clothing use is an important modern behavior that contributed to the successful expansion of humans into higher latitudes and cold climates. Previous research suggests that clothing use originated anywhere between 40,000 and 3 Ma, though there is little direct archaeological, fossil, or genetic evidence to support more specific estimates. Since clothing lice evolved from head louse ancestors once humans adopted clothing, dating the emergence of clothing lice may provide more specific estimates of the origin of clothing use. Here, we use a Bayesian coalescent modeling approach to estimate that clothing lice diverged from head louse ancestors at least by 83,000 and possibly as early as 170,000 years ago. Our analysis suggests that the use of clothing likely originated with anatomically modern humans in Africa and reinforces a broad trend of modern human developments in Africa during the Middle to Late Pleistocene.


F<sc>IG.</sc> 1.
FIG. 1.
Divergence time of human head and clothing lice. The posterior distribution for the divergence of head and clothing lice (gray curve) places the median estimate for the origin of clothing lice at 170 Ka (black arrow). This estimate is substantially older than a previous estimate of 30–112 Ka from molecular data (Kittler et al. 2003) and is consistent with the relative antiquity of the first archaeological evidence for hide scrapers ∼780 Ka (Carbonell et al. 1999), the loss of human body hair by ∼1.2 Ma (Rogers et al. 2004), and the first evidence for tailored clothing ∼40 Ka (Delson et al. 2000), which are indicated by blue arrows. Furthermore, the median estimate lies within the ice age coincident with Marine Isotope Stage 6 ∼130–190 Ka (EPICA Community Members 2004), indicated by the red-shaded region.

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