Ancient Pants for a Rider Reconstructed

The precise construction of ancient textiles is often a matter of educated guesswork, since fibers—if they survive in the first place—tend to rot in most soil types. Now we have a little more to go on: in March 2022, a study was published on the technical details of fabric and finishing techniques of eight wool garments, including a spectacular pair of pants, belonging to a rider buried ca. 1200-1000 BCE.

One of the oldest preserved pairs of trousers in the world, the garment was found at Yanghai, Turfan (also known as Turpan), in the Xinjiang area in Northwest China. It’s an area with a long history and multiple tombs, as befits a stop on the Silk Road.

The breeches were made from three pieces: one for each leg and one for the crotch to combine the two sides.

HS Archaeological Research in Asia Wagner et al Turfan Rider Pants1

All three pieces included some woven patterning. Besides striping, the leg pieces also had a decorative band in a T-hook pattern (a kind of geometric design) around the knees.

HS Archaeological Research in Asia Wagner et al Turfan Rider Pants2

Interestingly, it seems that the pant pieces were woven on a loom into the final size and shape; no cutting from a longer length of cloth was involved. A combination of multiple techniques was also discovered: regular twill weave on the majority of the work, the weave on the knees, and a third method on the upper areas to create a thick waistband.

All this means a high skill level was needed in gauging not just the size of the future wearer, but also the amount of yarn required, plus naturally the various weaving techniques.

In the course of studying these clothes, reproductions were made. The outfit consists of the trousers, a poncho with belt, two pairs of braided bands (one below the knees and another at the ankles), and a wool headband.

HS Archaeological Research in Asia Wagner et al Turfan Rider Pants3

I’ve recently done some reading on recreating prehistorical clothing from scratch, and let me tell you, all of the shearing, washing, sorting, carding, spinning, dyeing, and—only at the very end—weaving plus sewing was no mean feat. The gorgeous (pre)historic garments we have managed to find must have taken a simply enormous amount of work to create. Even with a little weaving and band making plus a lot of sewing under my belt (pun intended—sorry, not sorry) I have a hard time imagining the magnitude of effort required in textile production before modern machinery.

Found and images via Helsingin Sanomat. (NB. Finnish only.) In English, you can read more at Science News.

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