Faunal evidence for a difference in clothing use between Neanderthals and early modern humans in Europe
In this paper we report a study designed to shed light on the possibility that clothing differences played a role in the replacement of the Neanderthals by early modern humans. There is general agreement that early modern humans in Europe utilized specialized cold weather clothing, but the nature of the clothing used by Neanderthals is debated. Some researchers contend that they did not use clothes. Others argue that they were limited to cape-like clothing. Still others aver that their clothing was not substantively different in terms of thermal effectiveness from that of early modern humans. To test among these hypotheses, we employed a novel line of evidence—the bones of animals whose skins may have been made into clothing. We used an ethnographic database to identify mammalian families that were used to create cold weather clothing in the recent past. We then compared the frequency of occurrence of these families in European archaeological deposits associated with early modern humans and Neanderthals. We obtained two main results. One is that mammalian families used for cold weather clothing occur in both early modern human- and Neanderthal-associated strata. The other is that three of the families—leporids, canids, and mustelids—occur more frequently in early modern human strata than in Neanderthal strata. There is reason to believe that the greater frequency of canid and mustelid remains in early modern human strata reflects the use of garments with fur trim. Thus, these findings are most consistent with the hypothesis that Neanderthals employed only cape-like clothing while early modern humans used specialized cold weather clothing. We end by discussing the implications of this hypothesis for the debate about the replacement of the Neanderthals by early modern humans.