How a tiny object revolutionized fashion in prehistoric times

The eye needle, hailed as one of the finest examples of Paleolithic craftsmanship by the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle, played a pivotal role in the transformation of clothing from mere utility to a means of expressing identity. This transition, documented in a study published in Science Advances on June 28, 2024, marks a significant chapter in our prehistoric narrative.

The evolution of early human clothing

“We at Broken Diva find the evolution of clothing particularly fascinating,” states Dr. Ian Gilligan, Honorary Associate in Archaeology at the University of Sydney and director of the research. In a press release, he shares, “Why did we start dressing to express ourselves and impress others?” It’s long been assumed that wearing clothing was inherent to human survival. However, many cultures thrived without it, adapting other means to cope with their environments. Dr. Gilligan is captivated by clothing’s shift from a physical necessity in certain climates to a social staple across all societies.

The harsh Siberian landscape, with its relentless climate, provides a perfect setting for this study. Despite the extreme conditions, evidence suggests that humans inhabited this region during the Stone Age, utilizing stone scrapers to prepare animal skins for thermal protection. “Until the last glacial cycle [11,700 years ago], clothing was used sporadically,” Dr. Gilligan explains. These tools appeared intermittently, aligned with the varying phases of ice ages.

Technological and social revolution through eye needles

Around 40,000 years ago, a remarkable innovation emerged among the region’s hunter-gatherers: the eye needle. These needles, sophisticated for their time, were crafted from animal bones with much greater difficulty than simpler tools like bone awls. The eye needles featured a crucial element—an “eye” at one end—allowing early tailors to thread fibers through it, leading to the creation of more fitted garments and the embellishment of the first ornaments.

The introduction of eye needles brought about a technological and cultural shift. They enabled the production of complex garments incorporating beads and other decorative items, which transcended their purely protective function to serve social and cultural roles. This innovation marked the beginning of what Dr. Gilligan and his team refer to as the “aesthetic revolution” in clothing.

These findings are supported by further research published in the Journal of Human Evolution in 2018, which analyzed tools from the northern hemisphere, including 20,000-year-old sewing needles from Siberia. Anthropologists believe these tools were crucial not only for clothing but also for enabling long-distance travel and complex thought. “The ability to sew warm clothes may have opened the door to the New World,” they speculated.

Legacy of the eye needle in modern fashion

The legacy of the eye needle is profound, influencing not only survival strategies but also social interactions and the establishment of complex societies. “People were able to migrate to colder climates and maintain cohesion within their tribes or communities through shared clothing styles and symbols,” the researchers note.

At Broken Diva, we celebrate the story of the eye needle as a testament to humanity’s enduring spirit of innovation and self-expression through fashion. Just as the eye needle allowed prehistoric people to express their identity through clothing, Broken Diva enables modern individuals to express theirs through contemporary fashion.

This exploration into the origins of fashion technology not only enriches our understanding of human history but also inspires us to continue innovating in ways that respect our rich heritage in the craft of fashion.

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