Credit: M. Wagner/german archaeological institute

A team of archaeologists has made a startling found in China when they managed to dig out two pairs of trousers believed to be around 3,000 to 3,300 years old. These are therefore the oldest pants ever found.

They have been dated using radiocarbon with fibers from the pants, and also from three other items found in one of the tombs that have been excavated.

The usage of trousers as clothing in China is believed to have been introduced by horse-riding peoples moving into China around this time. Since pants are much easier to ride with, they were therefore especially favorable to nomadic peoples using horses. Compared to tunics and robes, which were the traditional clothing worn by Chinese at this time.

Trousers are believed to have been invented by horse-riding peoples and by mobile pastoralists in central Asia. These particular pants were made of cotton, had straight-fitting legs and a wide crotch. The men who wore them were likely either warriors or riding shepherds. One of the men was buried with a decorated leather bridle, a battle-ax and a leather bracer for arm protection. Also found were a whip, a decorated horsetail, a bow sheath and a bow.

The team was led by archaeologists Ulrike Beck and Mayke Wagner of the German Archaeological Institute in Berlin. They have been investigating Yanghai graveyard in China’s Tarim Basin, and these pants were found together with the other equipment in one of the tombs.

The findings support previous notion suggesting that nomadic herders in Central Asia invented pants to provide protection and freedom of movement while on horseback, for long journeys, shepherding and for mounted warfare.

Scythian archer. Interior from an Ancient Greek Attic red-figure plate, ca. 520–500 BCE, from Vulci. British Museum, London.

As can be seen, the pants are exceptionally well preserved, which is probably a consequence of the very dry climate and the hot summers in the area. These aspects have helped preserve human corpses, clothing and other organic material in the Tarim Basin.

The Tarim Basis consists of many exceptionally rich graveyards. With more than 500 tombs already excavated since the early 1970s.

The usage of trousers is actually one of those groundbreaking inventions in history. First on recorded during the 6th century BCE (see picture to the right) in Greek ethnography, with the appearance of horse-riding Iranian peoples.

The invention of trousers and its likely affiliation with horseback riding and mobility: A case study of late 2nd millennium BCE finds from Turfan in eastern Central Asia