Sunday, February 17, 2013

Skin Decoration Goes Way Back, Suggests Researcher

About 1.5 to 2 million years ago, early humans, according to the prevailing view of most paleoanthropologists and archaeologists, evolved into nearly hairless primates to more efficiently sweat away excess body heat. But later, according to Penn State anthropologist Nina Jablonski in a report to the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, humans may have begun to decorate skin to increase attractiveness to the opposite sex and to express, among other things, group identity.

Over thousands of years, humans used their skin as canvases of self-expression in a variety ways, including permanent methods such as tattooing and branding, as well as temporary, including cosmetics and body painting, according to Jablonski. But the determination of when this practice began to occur is somewhat more elusive than estimating the time when humans as primates actually began to lose their hair. "We find a lot of evidence of when humans began to lose hair based on molecular genetics," said Jablonski. But studying skin itself is difficult because it can be preserved only for a few thousand years, as opposed to bones, which fossilize and last millions of years. Nevertheless, while it is difficult to know when humans began to decorate their skin, some of the earliest preserved skin shows signs of tattooing, maintains Jablonski.
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