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Earliest trousers may have been designed for riding

The earliest known trousers, dating back 3300 years, may well have been designed with riding in mind. Photo: Archaeological Institute, M. Wagner

The earliest known trousers, dating back 3300 years, may well have been designed with riding in mind. Photo: Archaeological Institute, M. Wagner

The earliest known trousers, dating back up to 3300 years ago, appeared to be the forerunners of modern riding pants, researchers say.

In fact, researchers suspect the wearers were horse riders, with the trousers designed for the practicalities of riding.

The design and manufacturing process of the trousers were studied in detail by researchers from Germany and China. Their findings have been reported in the May 22 issue of the journal, Quaternary International.

Ulrike Beck, from the German Archaeological Institute, and his colleagues analysed two pairs of trousers excavated at Yanghai cemetery, near the Turfan oasis in western China.

The substantial fragments of the woollen trousers came from tombs known as M21 and M157.

They have been radiocarbon dated to between the 13th and 10th century BC, making them up to 3300 years old.

“Their age corresponds to the spread of mobile pastoralism in eastern Central Asia and predates the widely known Scythian finds,” the researchers reported.

“The design of the trousers from Yanghai with straight-fitting legs and a wide crotch-piece seems to be a predecessor of modern riding trousers.

“Together with horse gear and weapons as grave goods in both tombs our results specify former assumptions that the invention of bifurcated lower body garments is related to the new epoch of horseback riding, mounted warfare and greater mobility.”

Trousers became an essential part of the tool kit for humans, providing protection while still providing freedom of movement.

The researchers analysed the cut of the trousers in detail.

Each was made from three independently woven pieces of fabric, one nearly rectangular for each side spanning the whole length from waistband to hemline at the ankle. Another was stepped cross-shaped crotch-piece which bridged the gap between the two side-pieces.

“The tailoring process did not involve cutting the cloth: instead the parts were shaped on the loom, and they were shaped in the correct size to fit a specific person.”

The researchers said the yarns of the three fabrics and threads for final sewing matched in color and quality, which implied that the weaver and the tailor was the same person, or that both co-operated in a highly co-ordinated way.

Standard attire until the advent of trousers had been robes, gowns, tunics and the like. The 5300-year-old remains of Ötzi the Iceman was wearing a three-piece combination of loincloth and individual leggings.

More than 500 tombs in the Chinese cemetery have been excavated there since the 1970s.

The tombs in which the trousers were found were the graves of two 40-year-old men, believed to be herders.

The abstract of the study can be read

The abstract of the study can be read here.

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