Australia: The Land Where Time Began

A biography of the Australian continent 

Tasmanian Archaeology – Clothing and Modern Human Behaviour, the Challenges from Tasmania

Fundamental problems for the concept of modern human behaviour are presented by the archaeological record of Australia, Tasmania in particular offering a special challenge. These problems are exposed by evidence from Tasmania which suggest that the development of clothing is relevant to key aspects of behavioural modernity. Gilligan summarises the physiology of the cold tolerance of humans and clothing drawing a distinction between “simple” and “complex” clothing. He considers strategies to address the archaeological “invisibility” of Palaeolithic clothing and outline the relationships that were proposed between clothing and markers of modernity (e.g., archaeological adornment). Gilligan then argued that the relative paucity of signs of modernity is a reflection of the routine lack of clothing in Aboriginal Australia, while a suite of developments in the Tasmanian Late Pleistocene can be linked to increased thermal requirements for clothing. He compares this adaptive pattern of behavioural modernity that was present in Tasmania with similar trends in Africa and Europe and discusses the differing implications of simple and complex clothing.

The Importance of Australia

Gilligan has suggested that in recent years a Eurocentric view of the emergence of behavioural modernity has been replaced by a Afrocentric view (McBrearty & Brooks, 2000), though when this is looked at from an Australocentric perspective the whole concept of behavioural modernity as a “package” of traits that moved with modern humans out of Africa is questioned (Brumm & Moore, 2005; O’Connell & Allen, 2007; Habgood & Franklin, 2008). Before the mid-Holocene the archaeological evidence suggesting behavioural modernity is distinctly patchy, in spite of modern humans being present in Australia for many thousands of years, stretching back to the Late Pleistocene. Also, no trend to accumulate into a “package” has been manifested by the few identifiable elements; instead they have been found to occur sporadically at times and places that are widely separated around the continent.

The importance of Tasmania

Gilligan suggests there are a number of reasons for the archaeological and ethnographic records of Tasmanian Aborigines being particularly challenging. First, at the rime of first European contact their material culture was comparatively minimal, even when compared with the remainder of Sahul, some considering it to be a bit too minimal (e.g., Jones, 1977, 202-203). This same perception also applied to their clothing (Gilligan, 2007c, 8-9). It was often remarked on by early European visitors, which included the surgeon on Cooks 1777 expedition, that their use of clothing appeared to be inadequate given “the rigour of their climate” (Anderson, in Cook 1784, 112). Also, after the terminal Pleistocene, Tasmania continued to be isolated from external cultural influences, which differed from the situation in mainland Australia. It is almost unique for a modern human population to be isolated for such a long period, as occurred in Tasmania and highland New Guinea, something which makes Tasmania an ideal case to be used in the testing of assumptions and propositions with regard to the emergence of modern human behaviour. An example is the developments in the Holocene that constitute most of the evidence for behavioural modernity in Australia that are conspicuous by their absence from Tasmania. During the Late Pleistocene, however, strong evidence for a “package” of traits that is present in Tasmania, the most southerly region of Sahul, when the thermal conditions demanded use of clothing for the survival of humans (Gilligan, 2007b).

Clothing and modernity

Gilligan argues that some of the key archaeological markers of behavioural modernity are in relation to the development of clothing to control thermal conditions experienced by humans, which therefore leads to a relative paucity of evidence in Australia which is a reflection of the reduced need for clothing (Gilligan, 2010b). The pattern of archaeological signatures, which are limited and fluctuating, relates to the local environmental conditions prevailing since the first arrival of modern humans in Australia, and it is also suggested that there was a similar patterning that can be found in the archaeological records of Africa and during the Middle and Upper Pleistocene in Europe.

Clothing and thermal physiology

The physiological and environmental limits of the human response to cold have been reviewed elsewhere (Gilligan, 2010a, 21-22). According to Gilligan 25o C is the optimum ambient temperature for modern humans who are lightly clothed, with shivering beginning at about 13o C, and the safe limit beyond which there is a risk of hypothermia that can become acute, occurs at a still-air temperature of approximately -1o C. The added effect of chilling that results from wind-chill is evident in the wind-chill index (e.g., Steadman, 1995). Acclimatisation improves cold tolerance, and there are populations who don’t wear clothes, such as the Aboriginal Australians were, have been found to display superior cold responses (e.g., Scholander et al., 1958) – which allows them to withstand temperatures as low as -5o C without clothing, assuming there is little wind (see Appendix D). Gilligan suggests it is this acclimatisation that explains how the Aborigines of Tasmania survived with minimal protection, e.g., windbreaks, use of fire, and scanty wallaby skin capes that were thrown over their shoulders (Gilligan, 2007c, 8-10). When Darwin saw the indigenous inhabitants of Tierra del Fuego he was astonished by the degree of their cold tolerance (1839, 234-235), among their behavioural modifications were shelters constructed from guanaco pelts and seal skins and sealskin capes and robes of woolly guanaco skins (e.g., Lothrup, 1928, 121-123).

Clothing functions as thermal insulation by trapping small air pockets and air layers close to the surface of the skin, which reduce the thermal gradient, and therefore the rate of heat exchange between the body and the surroundings (see Gilligan, 2010a, 22-23 for a detailed review). The “clo” unit is the most commonly used unit of thermal performance of clothing (Gagg et al., 1941, 429). In general each layer of clothing adds about 1 clo, with typical Arctic clothing of 4 layers providing about 4 clo of thermal protection.

Clothing – simple and complex

Gilligan suggests whether the garments are hung, “complex”, shaped and fitted i.e. tailored, to enclose the torso and limbs, or draped, “simple” over the body is the main basis for the distinction between “simple” or “complex” clothing (Gilligan, 2007b, 103-104; 2010a, 24-26). Physiologically, limited protection can be provided by simple clothing, usually about 1-2 clo, though such open-style clothing is prone to penetration by the wind. Complex clothing assemblages, in contrast, can easily provide protection up to 4-5 clo with superior protection from wind chill, which is enough to allow human survival even in polar and sub-polar environments.

There are archaeological implications that result from this distinction between simple and complex clothing, though it is based on physiological and structural aspects (Table 15.1). The manufacture of simple garments in Palaeolithic contexts, where animal skins are used, and not textile fibres, mainly involves the cleaning and scraping of hides by the use of various kinds of scraper tools. The manufacture of complex clothing additionally involves cutting the skins into specific shapes, such as making separate cylinders to enclose the limbs, followed by the joining of these shaped pieces of animal skin by sewing. For multilayered complex clothing assemblages the inner layers require the cutting and sewing to be more precise to achieve a close fit. Based on these reasons the archaeological signatures that are associated with complex clothes tend to include scrapers, but also cutting tools that are more complex, e.g., blade-based forms, as well as tools for piercing animal skins such as bone awls and eyed needles (see Gilligan, 2010a, 20) .

Table 15.1 Features distinguishing between simple and complex clothing

Property & structure









Number of layers



Thermal physiology

Still-air protection (generally)

1-2 clo

2-5 clo


Wind-chill protection



Technology (Palaeolithic)

Scraping implements




Cutting implements (generally)




Piercing implements (generally)




Impairs cold tolerance




Acquires decorative role




Acquires social functions




Promotes modesty/shame




Becomes habitual



After Gilligan in Dennell & Porr, 2014

Another difference between simple and complex clothing is that the wearing of simple clothing tends to be on a pragmatic thermal basis, being worn only when required for warmth, the wearing of complex clothing is more likely to be continued after the need for warmth has passed, becoming a routine feature of human behaviour. One reason for the retention of this behaviour is strictly physiological: cold tolerance is impaired by the human body being regularly and more completely covered, which creates a micro-environment for the body that is more consistently warm. Another reason complex clothing tends to persist is that when the skin surface is routinely covered decorative functions move from modifying the naked body to the clothing, which favours the emergence of motives that are purely cultural for wearing clothes. When clothes are worn continuously from infancy psychological factors can also come into play, as it may engender a sense of shame, or modesty, in relation to the naked body, and this encourages the continued wearing of clothes, whatever the physiological need for thermal regulation.

The invisible innovation 

Clothing worn in the Palaeolithic is almost invisible in the archaeological record, though it can sometimes be inferred that it existed, such as the distribution of ornaments in human burials (e.g., Pettitt, 2011, 140-142), and it can also be inferred by indirect approaches such as analysis of use-wear on tools (e.g., Hayden, 1990; Soffer, 2004). Genetic studies of human lice (Pediculus humanus) is an innovative approach that has been used to date the timing of the divergence of head lice from clothing lice, which Gilligan suggests may provide an estimate of when the wearing of clothing on a regular basis was adopted by modern humans. It was suggested by one study that this occurred between 170,000 and 83,000 years ago, the earlier date corresponding to early in the penultimate Ice Age, Marine Isotope Stage (MIS) 6 (Toups et al., 2011, 31). Anatomical changes that are associated with habitual wearing of footwear is a case where human skeletal morphology can sometimes provide clues. Gilligan suggests another strategy is to utilise data from human physiology and palaeoenvironmental science for the reconstruction of requirements for clothing in the past, based on the minimum physiological requirements for the survival of humans. According to Gilligan the archaeological record can be examined to anticipate technological signatures, as well as other correlates, of clothing in the varying climatic contexts, such as the differing technocomplexes that are associated with simple and complex clothing, in order to assess the extent to which these correspond to markers of modern human behaviour that have been proposed (e.g., Gilligan, 2010a, 17-21).

Behavioural Modernity and Clothing

Gilligan suggests there appears to be a link between fluctuating environmental conditions and the sporadic occurrence of early archaeological signs of behavioural modernity, in Australia as well as other parts of the world (e.g. Hiscock, 1994; d’Errico, 2003; Henshilwood & Marean, 2003; Hiscock & O’Connor, 2006; Zilhão, 2007). It is specifically suggested here that some of the key components relate to thermal adaptations, notably innovations of clothing (Table 15.2). Included in the list are clothing technologies, such as lithics that are blade-based and bone implements that are associated with the making of clothing assemblages) as well as some of the repercussions of wearing clothes, and other thermal adaptations (Gilligan, 2007b, 104-105). These latter features, though less tangible, are often considered to be more consistent indicators of behavioural modernity when compared, to e.g., lithic technologies (e.g., Bar-Yosef & Kuhn, 1999). Included among thermal adaptations and features related to clothing are greater control of fire, such as structured hearths, resource specialisations, such as animal hunting that is targeted, for hides and fur, as well as to acquire caloric requirements that are increased as they were living in cold environments, artificial shelters that were more elaborate, and in the case of complex clothing, the increased visibility in archaeological deposits of personal adornment and symbolism.

Table 15.2 Behavioural modernity, the archaeological markers and the suggested strength of their association with the development of clothing


Archaeological signature of behavioural modernity


Range extension to environments that were previously unoccupied


Site reoccupation and modification (e.g., sheltered sites)


Greater control of fire, such as stone-lined hearths


Specialised hunting, for hides and meat


New lithic technologies – blades


Tools in novel materials, such as bone awls and eyed needles


Personal adornment – beads and ornaments


Increased diversity of artefacts


Geographic/temporal variation in formal tool categories


Parietal art – and other external images and representations

After Gilligan, 2014.

According to Gilligan a consequence of routinely wearing complex cloths the important social functions of decorating the human body will be transferred to the garments, as well as being displaced further afield, becoming more archaeologically visible as symbolic modification of artefacts and the physical surroundings. Little tangible trace may be left in the archaeological record of decoration of the unclad human body, when the garments are decorated, and displacement of symbolism onto media that are external to the body will increase the visibility in the archaeological record of these functions. Gilligan suggests a prime example is the distribution of thousands of beads found on human skeletal remains at Sungir in Russia, that dates to the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) between 26,000 and 19,000 BP, the beads evidently being sewn onto the tailored garments (Bader & Bader, 2000, 29; Kuzmin et al., 2004). Beads have similarly been found at sites in Africa that date to cold episodes at earlier times in the last Ice Age, about 72,000 years ago and possibly 90,000-100,00 years ago (Henshilwood et al., 2004; Vanhaeren et al., 2006). The presence of artworks that increase in Europe in the Ice Age may be a simple reflection of the shift from symbolic modification on the exposed surface of the skin onto alternative surfaces such as the walls of caves, and into other media such as figurines, once ready access to the skin surface was restricted by the routine concealment of skin surfaces by clothes.

Modernity – Pleistocene Australia

That the lack of such evidence does not signify any lack of capacity for behavioural modernity is confirmed by the very limited archaeological evidence of symbolic behaviour in Australia during the Pleistocene (Brumm & Moore, 2005, 167-169; O’Connell & Allen, 2007, 405; Habgood & Franklin, 2008, 214). It is considered to be significant that it is documented that ochre was being used, probably for body decoration, as well as other probable use, virtually from the first arrival of humans in Australia (e.g., O’Connor & Fankhauser, 2001), though the evidence for other forms of decoration or adornment is sparse (e.g., Morse, 1993a). At Devil’s Lair on the southwest coast of the continent there is an example where 3 bone beads have been recovered that date to between 19,000 BP and 12,000 BP (Dortch, 1984), after the LGM. Rock has been found to be widespread, though none has been reliably dated to the Pleistocene; a few hand stencils in caves in Tasmania, however, are believed to probably date from the terminal Pleistocene (Harris et al., 1988; Cosgrove & Jones, 1989).

According to ethnography the Australian Aborigines did not wear any clothes, and Gilligan suggests that as their ancestors came from Africa without having to move away from the tropics (Bulbeck, 2007), they may never have worn clothes from the very first colonists in Sahul. In the cooler parts of the continent they wore simple clothes at times, but only for thermal reasons, clothing use corresponding to local meteorological indices such as wind chill (Gilligan, 2008). There is little evidence known of clothes being worn for “cultural” reasons that have been linked to more complex clothes (cf Kamminga, 1982, 38), single-layer garments, mainly capes of kangaroo and wallaby skins, and sewn possum fur cloaks, that were draped over the shoulders, but not fitted, being the only cloths worn when they were required. Gilligan (2007c) says that it was the norm for the Aborigines, even in Tasmania and other cooler regions, to wear no clothing throughout most of the year. Skin decoration, mainly with body painting and skin scarification served the function of personal adornment and social display, and the archaeological signatures for this are meagre. As has been noted ochre has been present in archaeological deposits from early in the occupation of Sahul, though small tools that were used ethnographically for decorative scarification (cicatrices) are occasionally found in archaeological deposits (e.g., McNiven, 2006, 7-8).

The limited archaeological evidence for behavioural modernity is mirrored by the limited use of clothing in Aboriginal Australia (Gilligan, 2010b, 62-66), and the poor archaeological visibility of adornment is a reflection of the absence of fitted clothing. The only indicator that is widespread is ochre, and this is consistent with body paining in the typical absence of clothing. Elements of behavioural modernity related to the manufacture of clothing (e.g., standardised hide-working lithic technologies and the hunting of the animal species that were hide-bearing, are, except for Tasmania, generally not found in the archaeological record. Though Gilligan finds it interesting that bone points that may have been used in the piercing of animal skins appear in the cooler regions dating from the Late Pleistocene, and occasionally they are associated with scrapers, as occurs at Devil’s Lair (Dortch, 1984, 50-64), Cloggs Cave (Flood, 1973) and in Tasmania most conspicuously.

Modernity – Tasmania

A heightened need for clothing in the Late Pleistocene is pointed to by estimates of wind-chill of between -2o C and -8o C, though in such conditions only simple clothing was required for human survival (Gilligan, 2007a; 2007b). In the Northern Hemisphere during the LGM comparable mid-latitude regions contrasts with this, with complex clothing being required as conditions were generally more severe. In Tasmania, marsupial skins were used for the making of clothes, the main technological requirement being some form of scraping instrument. At cave sites in southwestern Tasmania the faunal assemblages are dominated by the remains of species that were the main fur-bearing species of the area, and the lithic industry at such sites is dominated by standardised scrapers. Tasmania also stands out as in terms of the production of bone tools, another archaeological marker of behavioural modernity. In the Late Pleistocene in Tasmania these coincident developments are not surprising given the ethnographic simplicity of the Tasmanian tool kit at the time of first contact with Europeans, but is also unique in Australia in the Pleistocene, as they constitute a whole constellation of features that have been used to identify behavioural modernity. Also each can be linked to thermal considerations in general and in particular to the requirements for clothing.

Resource specialisation

Clear evidence for the targeting of a single species of animal has been yielded by faunal data, the red-necked (or Bennett’s) wallaby (Macropus rufogriseus), which had fur that would have been excellent for thermal insulation (Cosgrave, 1997, 54). Overall, the remains of this species comprised approximately 70 % of the faunal remains recovered from the cave and rockshelter sites (Jones, 1990). The frequency distributions of body parts, which appear to reflect the separation of skins to make cloaks, suggest their use in the manufacture of clothing (Cosgrove & Allen, 2001, 413-418), and it is suggested by a paucity of tail bones that the tails were either removed or left attached to the remainder of the skin (Cosgrove, 2004, 60). In Europe during the Ice Age there is evidence of specialised exploitation of fur-bearing species such as wolves and arctic foxes (e.g., Soffer, 1985, 310-327), where careful separation of skins from carcasses are sometimes indicated by comparable patterning in skeletal remains (e.g., Klein, 2009, 673).

Lithics – standardised

Leading into the LGM distinctive “thumbnail scrapers” began to appear in Tasmania about 28,000 BP, the earliest dated scrapers being recovered from Pallawa Trounta between 30,000 and 27,000 BP (Cosgrove, 1999, 375). The lithic industry was dominated by these retouched flake implements that would have been suitable for the preparation of animal skin garments. By the close of the Pleistocene thumbnail scrapers disappear from the southwest, though they persisted into the Holocene at some sites elsewhere in Tasmania (e.g., Moore, 2000, 71). Gilligan suggests these tools probably had multiple uses, such as woodworking, which might have become more prominent from the Early Holocene as at this time forests spread across the island. Use-wear analyses (Fullagar, 1986, 348-350) on thumbnail scrapers from Kutikina, an Ice Age site, hide preparation being identified by the results in approximately half the sample.

Bone tools

As temperatures declined stone scrapers and bone points began to appear in the archaeological record, the earliest known bone point, which was recovered from Warreen Cave, being dated to between 32,000 and 27,000 BP (Cosgrove, 1999, 382). Many of the bone points have been shaped into needles that have polished ends that are consistent with having been used to pierce animal skins for the making of sewn garments (Cosgrove, 1993, 167). Use-wear analysis of points recovered from 2 sites (Bone Cave and Warreen) support the suggestion that they were used in the sewing of garments, showing evidence of being used to pierce dry skins, though Gilligan suggests that in some cases this could also indicate that they had been used as spear points (Webb & Allen, 1990, 77-78). In Tasmania the complete disappearance of bone tools from the archaeological record of Tasmania during the Holocene, is said by Gilligan to be an intriguing aspect. It has been suggested (Jones, 1990, 283-284) the most likely reason for the disappearance is the warmer conditions led to a reduction in the use of clothing. It has been assumed that these bone tools didn’t have any other important functions, apart from the sewing of marsupial skins, their manufacture being abandoned when the thermal conditions improved.

The Tasmanian challenge

Collectively, these developments in Tasmania in the Late Pleistocene provide unambiguous evidence of a suite of archaeological markers of behavioural modernity in this most southerly part of Sahul (Fig. 15.1), which coincided with significant thermal stresses for the local human population. Gilligan suggests these archaeological signatures of behavioural modernity can been viewed as being adaptive responses to the local environmental conditions, the majority of which - resource intensification, standardised lithics and bone tools – being interpreted as archaeological correlates of clothing manufacture (Gilligan, 2007b, 107-108).

The Holocene reversal

A feature of the archaeological record in Tasmania that is seemingly unusual is that these signs of behavioural modernity that has been documented in many cave and rock shelter sites in the southwest were reversed in the Early to Mid-Holocene, and this aspect is also explicable in terms of the thermal contingencies. The settlement pattern, in which humans gravitated towards a higher latitude, and generally higher altitude that is unexpected, can be explained by the natural protection afforded by these sheltered sites (Gilligan, 2007a) during the LGM, then at the close of the LGM this rugged region was abandoned as thermal conditions ameliorated. The resource and technological specialisation essentially disappeared from the archaeological record after the LGM, though at a few cave sites in other parts of the region some level of human occupation continued on into the Holocene (e.g., Cosgrove, 1995b, 100).

Tasmania and Europe

In the Late Pleistocene parallels between Tasmania and Europe may be striking, but the technology resemblance is more to the Middle and Upper Palaeolithic of Europe. Complex clothing was not required in Tasmania as the conditions in Sahul were milder than was the case in Europe during the LGM (e.g., Colhoun, 2000), therefore there was a lack of archaeological signs of adornment in Tasmania. In addition to this, most of the archaeological signatures of complex clothing, notably blade tool to cut hides and eyed needles that are associated with finer sewing, have not been found in Tasmania. An interesting feature of the Tasmanian archaeological record is the presence of bone awls that were used for piercing animal skins, which are typical of complex clothing in the Northern Hemisphere, is attributable to the smaller skins that were available in Tasmania, where many wallaby skins are needed to be sewn together to make a substantial cloak (Gilligan, 2007b, 109). As sewn cloaks were not needed for warmth or decoration in Tasmania, they could revert to using wallaby skin capes on a purely pragmatic basis. Bone tools, as well as other markers of behavioural modernity, such as the lithic and economic specialisations, disappeared from the archaeological record.

Adaptive modernity

The way in which archaeological markers of behavioural modernity may be linked to developments that may be clothing related, and therefore a human adaptive response to environmental change is illustrated by evidence from Tasmania. According to this formulation the concept of behavioural modernity may be more adaptive than inherent, or at least a consequence or epiphenomenon of adaptive processes: it becomes less coupled to anatomical modernity and instead it can be connected to environmental conditions, e.g. fluctuating climates in the Pleistocene. There doesn’t need to be nebulous, mysteriously delayed emergence of these capacities resulting from cognitive reorganisation within the human brain or development of language abilities (cf. Klein, 2000). Gilligan suggests that what is visible in the archaeological record may be not much more than varying visibility of these capacities. It may then be expected that, at the global level, variation will manifest in concert with fluctuations of climate archaeological markers of behavioural modernity and the inferred presence of clothing, depending on whether simple or complex clothing was needed.

An Afrocentric perspective

Standardised scraper and blade technologies and facilitating simple and complex clothing manufacture typify the Middle Stone Age (MSA) and Late Stone Age (LSA) in Africa, which tended to have occurred in cooler regions and during colder phases of the Late Pleistocene (Gilligan, 2010a, 42-43). According to Gilligan this also appears to have occurred in the late Middle Palaeolithic and Upper Palaeolithic in Southwest Asia. Similarly, in northern Africa and the Levant the earliest known archaeological evidence of personal adornment is comprised of perforated shell beads  that have been dated broadly to  cold phases early in the last Ice Age (Vanhaeren et al., 2006; Bouzouggar at al., 2007). In southern Africa bone awls for hide piercing make their first appearance in cold phases – Marine Isotope Stage (MIS) 5a/b and Marine Isotope Stage 4 – between 84,000 and 72,000 years ago (d’Errico & Henshilwood, 2007). Sporadic blade tool production had waxed and waned throughout the Middle Pleistocene in northern and southern Africa and southwest Asia, beginning at about 400,000 years ago (Bar-Yosef & Kuhn, 1999; Gopher et al., 2005). During the last glacial cycle environmental patterning in blade production blade production became especially evident: blade tools appear to have dominated southern African industries that appear to be precocious (e.g., Howiesons Poort) make their first appearance during the very cold period (Marine Isotope Stage 4) at about 75,000 years ago, after which these industries disappear from the archaeological record early in Marine Isotope Stage 3, following the amelioration of climatic conditions. The Late Stone Age, which began during cold fluctuations of climate late in Marine Isotope Stage 3, becoming well established during Marine Isotope Stage 2, the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM), is subsequently defined by the intensification of the production of blades, as well as archaeological evidence of adornment and the manufacture of eyed needles.

A Eurocentric perspective

Mid-latitude Eurasia underwent a more pronounced proliferation and coalescence of most components of behavioural modernity in the Late Pleistocene compared to the situation in Africa. Included among these thermal adaptations and developments related to clothing there was also intensive exploitation of resources, such as the specialised hunting of animals that were hide and fur-bearing. There was also sustained settlement in new (colder) environments, long-term reoccupation of sites (in particular sheltered cave sites), control of fire that was more sophisticated, new forms of tools and greater diversity and standardisation of artefacts (notably scraper and blade-based technocomplexes, with bone awls and later, eyed needles) and a dramatic fluorescence of art along with other signs of symbolic behaviour (e.g., Vanhaeren & D’Errico, 2006).

According to Gilligan this European “package” occurs earlier and in environments at higher latitudes that are generally colder than occurred in Africa, though it closely coincides with local fluctuations of climate and intensified physiological thermal requirements for protection. Some elements of the “package” can be linked to clothing developments (Gilligan, 2010a, 41-47), and there is a lot of evidence, direct and indirect, for this in the archaeological record (e.g., figurines that depict clothed humans, ibid. 56-59). The relative frequency of scrapers has been shown to correlate strongly with colder phases of climate in Western Europe during the Middle and Upper Pleistocene (Monnier, 2006), while the first appearance of blade tool industries was during the penultimate Ice Age (MIS 6) (see e.g., Delagnes & Meignen, 2006). Across the mid-latitudes of Eurasia complex clothing were used routinely (as has been confirmed by the presence of eyed needles in assemblages from the Upper Palaeolithic) becoming widely established across mid-latitude Eurasia after 30,000 years ago, and they were accompanied by a “creative explosion” (Pfeiffer, 1982; Renfrew, 2009) in durable signs that are archaeologically visible, adornment as well as other forms of artistic expression. Many of these developments in Eurasia and their repercussions (which include derivative technologies) are continued across the Pleistocene-Holocene boundary, as are associated with a decoupling of complex clothing from thermal contingencies because clothing became socially indispensable as a result of  acquired decorative and other functions (Gilligan, 2010a, 26).

Tasmania – the end of modernity

The concept of modernity as a unilinear, universal cultural and technological trajectory, that is underpinned by capacities which are uniquely human. The concept gains credence from the cultural trajectory dominating the record of the Late Quaternary in many other parts of the world, notably in western Eurasia, though also in parts of Africa, northern Asia and the Americas. This trajectory, as is illustrated by Upper Palaeolithic of Europe, and the emergence of societies in the Neolithic, seemingly bears hallmarks of a unidirectional change leading to complex forms, which is analogous to biological evolution. The most recent product of this evolutionary analogy is the concept of behavioural modernity, though it continues to be “plagued by deep contradiction between the processes of local adaptation and supposed universal and absolute human progress” (Porr, 2010, 30).

This contradiction is addressed by the clothing perspective, with 2 different trajectories for clothing-related signs of behavioural modernity. Adaptive considerations govern the archaeological correlates of simple clothing (e.g., the developments in the Late Pleistocene and in the Holocene, devolution in Tasmania), though the correlates of complex clothing (e.g., the acquisition of decorative functions) allow a decoupling from environmental contingencies. A threshold may be crossed in the latter case where the developments acquire momentum that is self-sustaining (e.g., elaboration of archaeologically visible symbolic behaviour as well as further technological specialisations). In the latter case the trajectory can change at the inflexion point from adaptive fluctuations to a process that resembles “progress” that is seemingly inherent.

Summary and conclusions

Explaining the parallels and contrasts between the Late Pleistocene in  Tasmania and trends that are comparable in components of behavioural modernity that are archaeologically visible that have been seen in Africa and Eurasia can be assisted by the distinction between “simple” and “complex” clothing. In the case of simple clothing certain behavioural modernity components can fluctuate as environmental conditions fluctuate, whereas the range of archaeological signals is amplified and expanded by the adoption of complex clothing, though it has a greater tendency to be sustained  as a result of acquired psychological factors. The thermal need for clothing in Tasmania was limited to simple garments, even during the LGM. Consequently, the archaeological markers that corresponded with behavioural modernity, such as specialisation of resources, lithics and bone tools that were standardised continued to be coupled to environmental conditions – as is generally the case in Africa and Eurasia before the Upper Palaeolithic.

In Tasmania the challenge to the concept of behavioural modernity that is posed by appearances of some of its components that are fleeting can, according to Gilligan, be accommodated in this perspective, as can the archaeological trajectories that are seen in other parts of the world, e.g., very early developments in Africa, the paucity of evidence from Australia, and the “creative explosion” in Europe in the Late Pleistocene. A range of intervening variables (technological, demographic, economic, psychosocial) connecting components of modernity with climatic conditions, are offered by the archaeological correlates and the consequences of clothing. Also, the transition from simple to complex clothing carries the potential for a “package” of archaeological traits to become decoupled from climatic factors and, in persisting, to seemingly become an inherent aspect of anatomical modernity, though only by ignoring the challenge from Tasmania.

Sources & Further reading

  1. Ian Gilligan in Dennell, Robin & Porr, Martin, eds., 2014, Southeast Asia, Australia, and the Search for Human Origins, Cambridge University Press.


Author: M. H. Monroe
Last Updated 16/09/2015
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