Sometimes you just have to wonder how PhD students come up with their thesis topic. Take Ian Gilligan of the Australian National University: he studies ice age climates and … clothing.
Turns out that clothing can actually tell you a lot about prehistoric humans. If you aren’t very advanced, you wear simple clothing: a cape or a robe made basically by scraping a piece of animal hide. If you’re smarter, you develop complex clothing: something sewn together and tailored to fit the body, which means you can wear multiple layers and better fend off the cold.
Gilligan has spent a lot of time thinking about the Neanderthals – the prehistoric humans who lived side-by-side with Homo sapiens for tens of thousands of years – and what they did when the winters got really cold. At the INQUA meeting, he even speculated that some of the famous European cave paintings show fingertips missing on the handprints because … they had been lost to frostbite.
It’s an interesting theory, and since no one else has a much better idea of what happened to the Neanderthals, being driven extinct by the cold has about as much credence as any other idea. So next time you slip into a couple of warm fleecy layers followed by a windstopping Goretex – be glad you weren’t a Neanderthal.