From far above, the area around Yanghai cemetery looks like a collection of ground-dwelling wasp dens, drilled into a gravelly desert. It gets hot in this region of remote western China — up to nearly 120 degrees Fahrenheit, and dry. That’s a hard-knock climate, but it’s perfect for preserving ancient artifacts. And if you zoom in on the region, and dig in, as archaeologists have, you’ll find tombs with well-kept secrets. Inside two of them, scientists found not just human remains but the remains of what covered those humans.Yeah, they are pretty fancy duds for 3,000 years ago:
I’m talking about clothes, and not just any clothes: pants. These are the oldest pants (discovered) on Earth — more distressed than any jeans Gap can offer — dating back some 3,000 years. They’re tailored wool, and constructed from sewn-together pieces of uncut fabric. If Project Runway had magically predated television by about 2,930 years, the designer of these leg covers would have had a shot at the win.
As to how the fashion caught on, the article goes to explain that horse riding has a lot to do with it:
“The design of the trousers from Yanghai seems to be a predecessor of modern riding trousers, which, together with other grave goods in the tombs, allows the assumption that the invention of bifurcated lower body garments is related to the new epoch of horseback riding and greater mobility,” says Ulrike Beck, researcher studying the design and construction of early clothing....I feel much better educated now...
While these pants, and their equine-riding wearers, date back to between the 13th and 10th century BCE, leg-separating fabric didn’t catch on in Euro-“civilized” (Greek or Roman) culture for a while after that. Only barbarians, those cultured people believed, wore trousers. Take the Scythians, a group of Iranian nomads, or the Hunnu of Central Asia. The Greeks called Middle Easterners’ and Persians’ lower-wear “sacks,” and not in a nice way.
The Greco-Roman fun-making stopped, though, around the time those civilized statue-builders realized that mounted soldiers—cavalry—had a huge advantage over average-heighted people running around on their own two feet. To maintain military dominance, they needed to get atop the equines, to avoid tangling their tunics, and to protect their nether regions. And so, enter pants, which were also warmer as these people expanded northward.
When the Romans wore loose pants, they gave them a nice name: braccae, a word that later became the English “breeches.” And after the Romanics lost their military dominance despite their attire, the people in charge of Europe were full-on horse-riding pants-lovers.
Update: This makes a good companion piece to my lengthy 2011 post about the history of cotton (even though the old Chinese pants above are wool.) I like these self education posts - and have no idea whether anyone else ever does.