40,000-year-old prehistoric needles & dawn of fashion

A groundbreaking study published in Science Advances revealed that eyed needles, which emerged around 40,000 years ago, played a significant role beyond mere tailoring for prehistoric humans. These needles, fashioned from bones, antlers, or ivory, made sewing more efficient and acted as instruments of self-expression.

The research, conducted by a team led by Ian Gilligan, an honorary associate in the discipline of archaeology at the University of Sydney, analyzed archaeological evidence from various sites across Europe, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, southern Africa, and Australia. The findings suggest that eyed needles were pivotal in the advent of fitted clothing, appearing as the climate grew colder during the last glacial period.

“Eyed needles made sewing more efficient and reflected the advent of fitted or tailored clothing,” Gilligan stated. He explained that during colder periods, humans needed to cover their bodies more extensively, leading to the use of clothing as a canvas for social and cultural decoration, replacing traditional body painting, tattooing, and scarification.

The study posits that eyed needles were used not only for practical purposes but also for decorative ones. Archaeological discoveries, such as a burial site near Moscow with skeletons adorned with pierced ivory beads and shells, support the theory that clothing decoration was a significant aspect of prehistoric life. These beads and shells, likely sewn onto clothing, illustrate the dual purpose of eyed needles in tailoring and adornment.

The importance of this discovery lies in its ability to connect us to the past, highlighting the sophisticated technological knowledge and cultural practices of Ice Age humans. According to April Nowell, a professor of anthropology at the University of Victoria, artifacts like eyed needles provide a tangible link to our ancestors, revealing the unexpected richness of their lives.

This study underscores how a seemingly simple tool like the eyed needle marked a profound shift in human history, transforming clothing from a mere necessity for warmth into a vital medium for social expression and cultural identity.

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