In this week's issue of Science I report on a possible sighting of the oldest known woven fibers, from a cave in the Republic of Georgia (see photo at left.) As always, the full story is only available to those with online access to the journal, but here are the essentials:
On page 1359 of this issue of Science, researchers from Georgia, Israel, and the United States, led by archaeologist Ofer Bar-Yosef of Harvard University, report more than 1000 fibers of the flax plant from Dzudzuana Cave in the foothills of the Caucasus Mountains. The microscopic fibers were found in layers radiocarbon dated to as early as 36,000 years ago, about the time when modern humans migrated into the area from Africa. A small number of fibers are colored black, gray, turquoise, and pink, and the team concludes that they were dyed.
I quote a couple of researchers questioning whether the fibers were actually dyed, but overall the commenters gave this paper a thumbs up. The team thinks the fibers were used to make clothing, baskets, and possibly cords to haft stone tools. We don't know when humans first started wearing clothes, but they leave almost no traces in the archaeological record, so this is a notable discovery.
Photo: Courtesy of Anna Belfer-Cohen.