As reported in the January issue of the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution, scientists have determined that human beings first began wearing clothes sometime between 83,000 and 170,000 years ago. Prior to that, our human ancestors walked around completely naked.
Evolutionary anthropologists speculate that clothes (i.e., the furs of animals) were first worn during early man’s northward migration from the plains of what is present-day Libya, to the colder climates of present-day Europe. While clothing was originally adopted as protection—to provide warmth—the notion of garments providing “modesty” soon followed.
And unlike the evolution of, say, horticulture or weaponry (where clubs evolved into spears, and spears evolved into bows and arrows, etc.), the concept of modesty didn’t evolve. It arrived abruptly and fully developed. Either you believed your genitals needed to be covered or you didn’t.
Also, it did not begin en masse. Arguably, the concept of modesty was introduced by the actions of one person, in one specific place, at one point in time.
- The following is a dramatization of that event.
TIME: Summer, 110,000 years ago. Midday.
PLACE: The plains of present-day Libya.
CAST: Gort, Urk and Kril, three Neolithic men, cave dwellers.
SCENE: Urk and Kril are waiting outside Gort’s cave, casually talking. Both men are naked.
URK: I heard you captured a jybiao yesterday.
URK: Did you eat it?
URK: I would like to capture a jybiao today. (intently) Because I would like to eat it.
(GORT emerges from his cave, wearing a crude form of underwear. URK and KRIL stare at the garment in amazement.)
URK: (pointing) Gort….what is that?
GORT: Something I made.
URK: (curious) What purpose does it serve? (gestures toward the sky) Is it not a hot day?
GORT: (acknowledging) Yes, it’s hot.
URK: (pressing him) Then why do you wear it?
GORT: (carefully) I wear it because…. (self-consciously) ….I don’t want anyone to see my hrindal.
(another long pause)
URK: (confused) But why don’t you want anyone to see your hrindal?
GORT: I can’t explain why. It just seems wrong.
URK: (smiles) We all have hrindals, Gort. We know what a hrindal looks like and what it is used for.
KRIL: (examines his own hrindal) Yes.
GORT: This isn’t about what it looks like or what it is used for. It’s about….not wanting people to see it. (uncomfortable) I must leave now. (walks away)
URK: (after thinking about it) Maybe Gort is right….maybe we shouldn’t be showing our hrindals. Maybe it’s best to keep some parts of our bodies covered. Maybe only our wives should see our hrindals. And maybe only we should see their yonis.
Beginning in prehistoric times the pursuit of modesty followed a fairly straight trajectory. It did so all the way until the middle of the 19th century, when photography was introduced in Europe. This new technology ushered in an era of so-called “reverse-modesty,” as the human body (particularly the female body) now began to be photographed wearing no clothes.
Moreover, as photography continued to improve and proliferate, nude pictures and depictions of explicit sexual acts became more and more available, culminating in the explosion of Internet pornography that we see today. Indeed, hardcore pornography is now ubiquitous. It’s found everywhere in the world. Except Libya.