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What did early humans do with their hair? Surely once it got too long it would've become a hindrance, obscuring vision as well as getting caught in plants.

Did they do anything to manage it or not?

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9

Our ancestors started using tools well before there were humans. They have had cutting tools for about 2 million years produced by various means and sharp enough to cut hair. Whether they used them to cut hair, I don't know.

Human hair does not stop growing, but it does fall out after a certain period of time with a new one replacing it. The ultimate length of human hair is determined by how fast it grows, how long it takes before falling out, and whether it's curly or straight.

Left unkempt, many humans do not grow long straight hair. If they did, they probably braided it. Basic combs appear in the Neolithic era.

  • I am sort of skeptical about cutting hair and beard with a stone tool, no matter how sharp:-) – Alex Sep 25 '15 at 4:20
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    @Alex youtube.com/watch?t=204&v=QWSTE6WLB0Y – Peter Sep 25 '15 at 4:35
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    I am still not convinced:-) No detail what he uses to sharpen it, and he uses modern shaving cream... – Alex Sep 25 '15 at 12:46
  • In fact, Chimps use (and fashion) tools, so most likely, our common ancestor with chimps was a tool-user. – T.E.D. Sep 25 '15 at 13:09
  • FWIW, I don;t think there's anyway to sharpen a fresh flint flake; it's already as sharp as any edge can be... – DJohnM Sep 25 '15 at 16:05
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In addition to Schwern's answer, it should be pointed out that not all humans grow beards and long straight hair. The Khoisan peoples in Africa instead grow sparse curly short hair (often termed "peppercorn"), and no beards at all. They don't need haircuts or shaves.

San Tribesman
Photo by Ian Beatty CC BY-SA 2.0

Their natural range (prior to the Bantu expansion) included the area in East Africa where humans are thought to have evolved. So it seems quite possible (likely even, if you believe in coincidental evolution) the original humans had some kind of similar hair scheme, and thus didn't need to cut their hair or shave.

It further seems likely that long straight evergrowing hair and beards are human adaptations to colder climates, and would not have evolved the way they have without the ability to trim them.

  • It may be possible that human beings did not grow long, straight hair until they began to cut it. Chimpanzees. our closest living relatives have short hair that doesn't require cutting. Wild sheep regularly shed their fleeces. Domesticated sheep have lost the ability to shed on a regular business, and the fleece will continue to grow indefinitely. Some sheep have been found that have several years worth of wool on them that somehow escaped being sheared. They had so much on their body that they began to have serious issues. A similar process may have taken place with early humans as well. – Jason Hutchinson Sep 30 '15 at 15:30

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