These Trufan Man pants lasted for 3,000 years and connected different cultures

An inspiration for modern day denim.
Rupendra Brahambhatt

In May 2014, an international team of archaeologists discovered a pair of 3,000 years old trousers at the ancient Yanghai burial site in China. The trousers were found in the grave of a warrior horseman that is believed to have died between 1000-1200 BCE. For the last eight years, researchers from different corners of the world examined the pants for their durability, design, and fabric-related qualities. 

With help from some clothing experts, scientists and weavers, the archaeologists have developed a replica of the prehistoric era pants. This modern replica has revealed various design secrets, weaving techniques, and cultural influences that governed the creation of the original pants. Interestingly, the pants share similarities with modern-day denim jeans and horserider clothing.  

The grave that housed the pants is located nearby a Chinese city named Turfan, so the researchers call the buried warrior horserider - Turfan man. Historical records suggest that the rough and tough pants of the Turfan Man are among the oldest garments known to humanity. 

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What makes the Turfan Man’s pants a perfect clothing choice?

Despite being 3,000 years old, the replica highlights that the pants had a stylish look that can even surprise many modern-day fashion designers. They were woven in twill, a diagonally ribbed fabric currently seen in jeans, jackets, furniture covering, etc. Twill weaving produced strong and stretchable trousers, so the Trufan Man need not worry about ripping his pants while fighting or riding his horse.

The pants were wide at the top and consisted of a crotch piece at the center, so the horserider didn’t feel uneasy during long journeys. The crotch piece also gave the rider more scope for increasing his leg mobility. The weavers also kept in mind that if a rider falls from his horse, he is most likely to injure his knees. 

Therefore, they employed a different weaving technique for the knee region known as tapestry weaving. It is an ancient handloom method that involved the production of garments by weaving weft-threads and warp threads in an irregular sequence. The technique allowed the weavers to keep the fabric robust and thicker near the knees. 

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A third weaving method was used in the waist region to thicken the borders of the waist so that the pants perfectly fit the warrior. What’s more surprising is that the pants were designed using multiple weaving techniques, but they didn’t have any joints and cuts. 

Karina Grömer, a textile expert from Natural History Museum in Vienna, analyzed the Yanghai pants in 2017. Surprised by the quality standards and top-notch weaving practices of the ancient weavers, she said, “this is not a beginner’s item,” it’s like the Rolls-Royce of trousers.”    

The Yanghai pants represent a blend of different cultures

The pants were woven entirely from a single cloth piece, and they were flexible, stylish, and spacious. Moreover, they featured zig-zag stripes, interlocking T-hook designs, and patterns inspired by the pyramids

These prints and patterns suggest that the Asian weavers must have come in contact with people from distant regions such as Mesopotamia, Kazakhstan, and Siberia (where such textile designs are believed to have originated or been discovered in the first place). For example, the T-lock pattern was previously found on pottery items found at a 3,800-year-old burial site in Siberia. 

In an interview with ScienceNews, lead researcher Mayke Wagner said, “A diversity of textile techniques and patterns of different local origins, traditions, and times merged into something new in this garment.” 

The Yanghai burial site is also believed to be located on an ancient trade route called the Silk Road that connected China and Europe. According to the researchers, the multi-cultural patterns on the pants can be considered evidence of how ideas and cultural practices were exchanged between different communities via the Silk Road. 

Anthropologist Michael Frachetti at Washington University in St. Louis believes that the 3,000-year-old Yanghai pants can serve as an entry point for understanding Silk Road's role in shaping the ancient world.

This study is published in the journal Archaeological Research in Asia.

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