Man's Early Insulation

While a burning fire provided warmth, light and the ability to heat food, insulation in the form of animal hides gave Homo erectus, Homo ergaster, and other early humans the continual protection needed to survive freezing weather. Over 1.5 million years ago, humans lost much of their body when they became fully bipedal and lived on the flat African savannahs. After several million years of prolonged walking and running across the savannah, early humans experienced an evolutionary genetic process called natural selection that eventually replaced their hair with sweat glands necessary to regulate body temperature and prevent hyperthermia.

Does This Coat Make Me Look Fat?

Oxford University anthropologists Walter Bodmer and Mark Pagel have suggested that hair loss resulted when early humans developed insights into utilizing animal hides and wearing them to protect the body during freezing weather. Since rudimentary stone tools were needed to produce clothing made of tough animal skin (skinning an animal is not easily performed with bare hands), anthropologists think we may have started insulating ourselves with clothing made from animal skins after developing tools, leaving Africa over one million years ago., and encountering much cooler weather.

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Because fibrous clothing deteriorates in tropical, humid weather, the oldest evidence found that substantiates early humans' ability to weave clothing from plant or animal fibers was found in Czech Republic and dates back to the Upper Paleolithic period, around 25,000 BCE. Early insulation for the body included animal hide clothing, shoes and accessories such as bone needles, and dye and bleaching technology that may have provided clothes with hierarchical meanings within a tribe.

When the first anatomically modern humans (Homo sapiens) left Africa about 100,000 years ago, Neanderthals already inhabited parts of Europe and had developed both genetic and creative adaptations to survive the brutal cold of Earth's last glacial period. Neanderthals tanned hides, colored them with ochre staining and probably wore shoes made of tougher animal skins. Animals hunted by Neanderthals for their meat and hides include wild boar, mammoth, reindeer, elephants (straight-tusked) and an extinct species of wild cattle called aurochs.

Otzi, the Well-Dressed Ice Man

Otzi the Ice Man is a mummified Neolithic corpse possibly 5300 years old who was discovered in 1991 buried on a mountainside in the Italian-Austrian Alps. What's fascinating about Otzi is the type and amount of insulative clothing he wore--a goat and deer-hide jacket, a loincloth, leggings, a cape made from bark and Alpine grass, a bearskin hat and shoes composed of goat and bear skin insulated with hardy grass types.

Home Sweet Home

Anthropologists speculate that Homo heidelbergensis may have been the first Homo sapiens to construct a simple shelter from natural objects such as plants, rocks and wood. Evidence about 400,000 years old from the Terra Amata site in France suggests that these early homes were large and elongated enough to house extended families. Previously, shelters had consisted of caves, cliff over hangings or simple hearths perhaps protected by large rocks surrounding one or more fires.

Energy Efficient Inuit Homes

Descending from the Thule culture who crossed Siberia and emerged in western Alaska around 1000 BCE, the Inuit relied on driftwood, bones and animal hides to create homes called tupiq that were insulated and tough enough to withstand the bitter Artic cold. Temporary shelters made from snow and ice called iglus offered protection from the elements outside a permanent settlement.

Animal skins also provided the Inuit with footwear, leggings and parkas sewn with bone needles and sinew. Bearded seal skin or caribou boots kept their feet from suffering frostbite when hunting or fishing in subzero weather.

Could We Survive an Ice Age Today Using Early Forms of Insulation?

Maybe. However, most of the animals hunted for clothing and shelter thousands of years ago are extinct. In addition, many creatures with the types of skins required to give us the insulation we would need to survive 5000 years of below normal temperatures, raging blizzards and ice sheets have dwindled in numbers so drastically that there wouldn't be enough of them to provide the billions of people living on Earth with enough insulation to live as successfully in the wild as our predecessors.

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