Sometime ago I wrote, in my series on Freud, about the relationship between human civilization, morality, neurosis, and clothing. From that essay:
Clothing is so ubiquitous we often fail to notice how odd this behavior is, ethologically speaking. True, clothing norms have varied widely across space and time. Many tribes and cultures have gone virtually naked. But even so, most of these tribes haven't gone totally naked. Generally speaking, humans like to wear pants.When did humans start wearing pants? Well, apparently lice genetics help us approach an answer. In an article over in Slate Brian Palmer discusses some of the research about the Dawn of Pants:
Why? Well, the Bible tells us. Clothing is, interestingly, the very first behavioral symptom of the Fall of Humankind. It's not murder. That comes later. No, the first symptom of the Fall is putting on some pants:"You will not surely die," the serpent said to the woman. "For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."Let's note three interesting things about the Dawn of Pants. Specifically, these three events are intimately connected:
When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.
1. The Knowledge of Good and Evil
2. The Onset of Shame
3. The Dawn of Pants
What is the meaning of these connections? Well, as noted above, let's take the onset of clothing as the beginning of the separation between Man and Animal. Clothing is the beginning of civilization. To this day we consider nakedness to be a regression to an animal-like existence.
If so, then the rise of civilization was intimately related to the onset of our moral sense, the "knowledge of good and evil." And morality creates shame. And shame leads to pants.
The Siberian early human lived during the Pleistocene ice age, so researchers assume that he or she would have worn clothes for insulation. When did humans start dressing up? At least 100,000 years ago. Human raiment is not typically preserved in the fossil record, so researchers have turned to lice genetics for hints. Body lice diverged genetically from other louse species about 100,000 years ago. Because body lice live primarily in our clothing, scientists use that moment of differentiation as the likely era when humans started dressing themselves.
It's possible, however, that humans started wearing clothes even earlier. We know that pubic lice jumped over to humans from gorillas—our genetically distinct head lice migrated from chimpanzees—about 2 million years ago. And since pubic and head lice probably couldn't have coexisted on the same body if there was a hairy highway connecting their favorite anatomical spaces (one would have beaten out the other for all the available resources), it's likely that we had lost our body hair by then. Some claim that humans donned clothing shortly after that, but others argue that there's no reason our ancestors would have needed clothing in steamy Africa.