Did you know that Dr. Yarn has a background in archaeology? Neither did I, but it is apparently so. Read on…
This question recently came in from Cynthia at Arizona State University.
Q. The Sept 12, 2011 Garfield mentions knitted underwear for the Cro-Magnon man. This seems unlikely to me, but Garfield has never led me astray before. Did such garments really exist?
A. This surprised even me, but digging in deeper (which is really what you have to do in this field), we find new archeological evidence that this information from Garfield is true. As you know, the weather was cold in the Cro-Magnon era. Although Cro-Magnon man (…and woman …and child) was hairy, this alone wasn’t enough to keep him or her warm. Necessity is the mother (…or father …not child) of invention, and the Cro-Magnon people discovered a use for the wool they acquired upon killing a Wooly Mammoth.
The Cro-Magnons couldn’t afford to waste a bit of these difficult prey. Of course, they ate the meat first, but then they tried chewing on some of the hide and fiber (yes, even then the nutritionists were big on fiber). The wool stuck between their teeth in an irritating way, and when they twisted it to remove it, they discovered spinning.
With knitting needles made from the rib bones and millenia to while away before TV and board games were invented, they passed the time spinning and knitting undies for themselves. They did not make outer garments - fashion statements had not been invented yet, either.
Early Cro-Magnon had only thong panties at first, but as their skills improved they advanced to long underwear.
As an unintended consequence, those who play chess are a little put out because they always thought chess was the oldest activity; now they find that knitting is much older. I have it on a reliable source that the United States Chess Federation is trying to raise a million dollars to fund an expedition to see if they can find out that Cro-Magnon actually played chess while wearing their knitted undies. Now that is something we are all interested in!
Thanks for that good question, and it is nice to hear from college students who are interested in finding out the truth no matter how much it upsets some of our narrow biases and myths.