Archeology: Who had the pants on? - Free University of Berlin

In Mesopotamian Sumer "man" was wearing rock 5000 years ago. In ancient Greece and Assyria as well. The Romans considered the trousers, the practical garment of their Germanic enemies, for a long time a symbol of uncultivatedness and barbarism. But the pants are not invented by the Teutons. Since the Iron Age, since the trousers can be detected with certainty as part of the Germanic costume, they have probably taken the trousers of trousers wearing the horse from the Eurasian steppe.

The trail of the garment can be traced to Yanghai, a burial ground in the western Chinese Turfan Valley. There, where numerous routes of the later Silk Road ran, archeologists met in 2005 on the mummified corpse of a 40-year-old man. He was wearing woolen trousers on his legs. When, six years after the discovery, a German-Chinese research team first examined the mummy's clothing, the radio-carbon method proved that the man had died around 1200 BC. This is why his wool pants are the oldest surviving trousers in the world.

The production of textile clothing was an innovative achievement

Since 2013, the research team has been dedicated to the project "Silk Road Fashion: Communication through clothing of the 1st millennium BC. In Eastern Central Asia "research into old textiles that archaeologists recover from graves in the region. A science team involved in the "Silk Road Fashion" project has now published a book and a film titled "The Invention of Trousers". Mayke Wagner, Scientific Director of the Eurasia Department of the German Archaeological Institute, directed and wrote the script together with the paleontologist Pavel Tarasov, who researches climate and vegetation of long ago at Freie Universität.

"The invention of trousers" shows how innovative textile clothing production was: spinning wool into threads, weaving it into a surface and adapting it to the human body requires mathematical thinking and technical skills. To produce a scientifically accurate reconstruction of the trousers of Turfan, scientists of various subjects worked together: archaeologists examined the fund context, chemists and biologists certain ages and types of fibers used, a design researcher reconstructed the weaving techniques, paleontologists drew conclusions about the then climatic pollen environmental conditions. Even breeders of Skuddenschafen and Schafscherer were with the party.

The book with its numerous illustrations, but especially the lovingly animated film, explain complex research processes easily understandable for a broad audience. "We wanted the audience to participate in the working process of the researchers with their ups and downs and their thoughts on next steps," says Pavel Tarasov. It was important for him to make something of everyday science – the search in unknown ways with an uncertain outcome – visible. "The invention of trousers" is the first 45-minute documentary produced by the German Archaeological Institute on the results of a multi-year research project. Several students of the Filmuniversität Babelsberg were involved in the implementation.

The Turfan residents did not yet know the trousers and the pockets

Due to the exceptionally good condition of the 3000-year-old pants, which is due to the extreme dryness of the site, a vivid image of the early Turfan costume can be reconstructed. Rarely can you look so fully into the past. The inhabitants of Turfan did not weave, as they do today, panels from which the trouser parts were then cut, but made each piece to measure by the future wearer. This cut-free process saved valuable yarn on the one hand, and on the other hand, the selvedges of the trousers gave a firm conclusion. The pants of the Turfan man was not only practical, but very elaborate and artfully crafted. It was made of woolen cloth woven from the wool hair of sheep. The Turfan residents did not yet know a trouser seat, nor did any of the bags. The one-piece leg warmers were tied tightly to the calves, and at waist level the trousers were closed with laces. As a basic fabric, it has a twill – this particularly stable and elastic at the same time binding style is still used in the classic blue jeans. At the knee, a meandering pattern in hand-twisted thread binding interrupts the characteristic diagonal of the twill weave. The color scheme took advantage of the natural colors of wool: Spinning used a natural brown and white wool. In the middle, the pants were connected by a tiered gusset, a wide piece of fabric that covered the crotch and bottom of the pants so that the legs could be spread wide sideways.

Paedontologist Pavel Tarasov in the laboratory with a tiny wool sample.Photo: D. Schuster / DAI

Why the people just in the midst of the enormous land masses of Central Asia came up with the idea to take off skirts and loincloths and slip into pants, has a reason: the cavalry. As humans started using horses as a source of kinetic energy rather than as a source of calories, as a motor of train and payloads, they changed the course of history. With the horse, says Pavel Tarasov, people had a particularly fast companion whose strength, endurance and speed enabled them to make war in a new way, to conquer and maintain vast territories.

"Pants were a kind of special equipment"

Due to their fit, the pants are just for the cavalry a highly meaningful garment. In the Turfan Depression, where a continental climate with extreme temperature differences between summer and winter as well as day and night prevails, the protection against the effects of the weather seems to have come first for humans. As the replica of the Turfan trousers shows, the riding over dominated the walking function. Because the invention, extremely comfortable while sitting, works "worse than expected" when walking, says Tarasov. This was due to the gusset, which crumpled too much in the crotch. To interpret the Turfan pants as riding clothes also fits that in the grave of the man a riding crop, bridle and a battle ax were found. Possibly, Pavel Tarasov and his colleagues suspect, the Turfan man has belonged to a professional riding class. "Pants were a kind of special equipment, you could say: the uniform of the first cavalry." Riding without pants is possible. But with her it rides more comfortably and perseveringly, and that could have decided at that time about life and death. Today, pants are the garment of choice for all men and every occasion. We owe the history of its origin to the patient archeological work of archeology.

As part of the 190th anniversary of the German Archaeological Institute on May 17, the reconstructed equipment of the Turfan man will be shown: Capital Representative Office of Deutsche Telekom, Französische Straße 33a-c, 10117 Berlin. Please register at until 7th May; more at

Leave a comment

Send a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.