The Prehistoric Development of Clothing: Archaeological Implications of a Thermal Model

  • Ian GilliganEmail author


This paper presents a thermal model for the prehistoric origin and development of clothing. A distinction is drawn between simple and complex forms of clothing, with broad implications for the interpretation of paleolithic technological transitions and the emergence of modern human behavior. Physiological principles and paleoenvironmental data are harnessed to identify conditions requiring simple, loosely draped garments and the more challenging conditions that demanded additional protection in the form of complex garment assemblages. No actual clothing survives from the Pleistocene, yet the archaeological record yields evidence for technological and other correlates of clothing—more evidence than is generally supposed. Major innovations and trends in the distributions and relative frequencies of lithic and other tool forms may reflect the changing need for portable insulation in the context of fluctuating ice age climates. Moreover, the nonthermal repercussions of complex clothing can be connected with archaeological signatures of modern human behavior, notably adornment. Alternative models are less parsimonious in accounting for the geographical and temporal variability of prominent technological and other behavioral patterns in association with environmental change.


Clothing Climate Paleolithic technology Modern human behavior 



Earlier drafts and portions of the present paper were kindly read by Robert Boyd, David Bulbeck, Colin Groves, Brian Hayden, Johan Kamminga, Michael J. Walker, and Peter White, and it has benefited greatly from their critical comments. David Reed clarified some of the complexities involved with interpreting the genetic studies of human lice, Bob Steadman generously provided additional information on the subject of wind chill, and Mark White supplied a number of obscure references. Special thanks are due to three anonymous reviewers whose comments proved immensely valuable.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Archaeology and AnthropologyThe Australian National UniversityCanberraAustralia

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