World’s oldest pants found in ancient Chinese grave have a seriously huge crotch

A team of scientists has recently discovered the world’s oldest pants in some ancient tombs in northwest China.

Two pairs, in fact.

The wool trousers were unearthed in the Yanghai graveyard in the Turfan oasis, a vast archaeological site located halfway between Kazahkstan and Mongolia in China's Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region.

Discovered in the 1970s, the site has yielded more than 500 tombs containing Bronze Age artifacts and mummies galore. These are the remains of the nomadic herders and warriors who once roamed the steppes of Central Asia.

So how old are the pants? Radiocarbon dating puts them at 3,000 to 3,300 years old, making them the Ur-Trouser, or the closest thing to it we may ever find.

Yes, yes, old pants. But what’s really got the scientists excited is how they're constructed: with a conspicuously baggy crotch. In fact, they mention the word “crotch” 64 times in the 10 page article reporting their results.

This detail emerged when one of them, Mayke Wagner of the German Archaeological Institute in Berlin, created a replica pair for further study, says New Scientist.

When Wagner’s colleagues tried on the replica, “he had the clear impression that the trousers would be uncomfortable for long walking.”

But perfect for riding a horse! And to support this interpretation, archaeologists found horse-bits and bridles alongside the mummies in the tombs they excavated.

As Science News reports

“The discoveries… support previous work suggesting that nomadic herders in Central Asia invented pants to provide bodily protection and freedom of movement for horseback journeys and mounted warfare…”

Horse riding is thought to have begun around 3,400 to 4,000 years ago. Pants were likely invented soon after to protect people’s “lower bodies” (read: genitals) from chafing.

Until this point, our ancestors wore robes, tunics, togas, or a combination of loincloths and leggings (much like the teenagers today). But no pants, plus horses-riding for miles and days… you do the math.

In their article, the scientists share many eloquent thoughts about the general role of trousers in human civilization: 

“ The onset of trousers as we know them today, however, is marked by the invention of the crotch-piece which joins the leg-pieces together and connects them to the waist part to form a one-piece garment. The construction of a crotch-piece which facilitates even an extreme spreading of the legs at the same time as the trousers protect the pelvis is a ground-breaking achievement in the history of cloth making. It was a precondition for all functional lower body garments of modern times, for all kinds of clothing for specific tasks as well as for sportswear, which have to meet one key-demand: combine maximum freedom of movement with optimal body protection.”

So the next time you’re tempted to take your freedom for granted, remember the role of the humble crotch-piece.

Sign up for our daily newsletter

Sign up for The Top of the World, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning.