Infant carriers have existed in some form in every human society throughout history. It makes sense, our babies need to be carried and the people carrying them need to use their arms and hands-free for other work. But who invented it? Where did it come from? Some have speculated that it was invented at the same time as agriculture (10-12 kya), others claim that it was the first human invention (200 kya) alongside stone tools. Both are far too conservative.
In the Evolution of Babywearing, it is clear that no human group can claim credit for the invention of the infant carrier because it precedes the evolution of our species by millions of years. We owe our very existence to it– without the infant carrier, our bipedal ancestors would have been victims of natural selection due to their lack of grasping feet, size at birth in proportion to their mothers, reduction of body hair in adults, and their helplessness at birth. These four traits are why our species need infant carriers to transport infants while our nearest extant evolutionary cousins do not, their babies cling on. Tracing the origins of these four traits give us the best idea of when the infant carrier was invented, the moment when technological selection superceded natural selection.
The importance of the infant carrier cannot be overstated. It was the first tool, subverting natural selection, something descendants of Afarensis have continued to this day. No longer survival of the fittest but the survival of the smartest. The infant carrier, a simple yet extraordinary tool, went on to assist with the development of the stone tool industry and the migrations out of Africa by archaic and modern species of humans. When today’s parents and caregivers reach for an infant carrier they are taking part in an action that echoes through millions of generations.
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