The invention of trousers.
May 7, 2021 5:11 PM   Subscribe

The oldest trousers in the world. Scholars painstakingly recreate wool trousers found in a 3000-year-old grave site in Central Asia.
posted by Bee'sWing (63 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
 
Honey, where are my paaaaants?
posted by StarkRoads at 5:25 PM on May 7 [3 favorites]


Here are your pants. Show's over...
posted by Windopaene at 5:37 PM on May 7 [3 favorites]


These are beautiful and if not for the unfortunate crotch I would totally wear them.
posted by showbiz_liz at 5:49 PM on May 7 [1 favorite]


I have the receipt from the cleaners somewhere....
posted by stevis23 at 6:16 PM on May 7 [1 favorite]


These are beautiful and if not for the unfortunate crotch I would totally wear them.

And yet, if you were astride a horse, I think they would work. They look itchy though.
posted by Bee'sWing at 6:24 PM on May 7 [6 favorites]


But are they techno trousers?
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 6:26 PM on May 7


Discovered just in time for the pandemic-caused death of the pants
posted by piyushnz at 6:46 PM on May 7 [1 favorite]


But are they techno trousers?

They're certainly not space pants.
posted by Greg_Ace at 7:01 PM on May 7 [2 favorites]


the unfortunate crotch

my favorite Edward Gorey book
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 7:03 PM on May 7 [20 favorites]


I get that this documentary was focused on the trousers and that's why they limited the presentation at the end to mostly just tight shots of them.

BUT, I would really have loved to see a good shot of the whole outfit from different angles. Just an itsy-bitsy bit of runway work is what I'm saying.
posted by oddman at 7:03 PM on May 7 [11 favorites]


Yes, I always want more wide establishing shots of things like this. If you're going to go to the trouble of making a video of one of these historical crafting endeavors, fucking linger on it.

(ETA: "Linger on the unfortunate crotch", I guess is what I'm saying.)
posted by Horkus at 7:25 PM on May 7 [4 favorites]


I really enjoyed the interdisciplinary pulling together of the various threads of investigation to weave a holistic whole (so to speak).

Also the little animated illustrations were great.
posted by Greg_Ace at 7:40 PM on May 7 [7 favorites]


It's a super-interesting video, especially if (like me!) you're very interested in the history of textiles. I got very excited when they were weaving, I was like, "No, that won't make that pattern!" and I was all "EUREKA!" when they found the Maori technique.

It's always striking to me how much of human technological and cultural innovation depends not just on domesticating the horse, but on deciding to sit on top of it. You've got to think that domesticating the dog must have led to just as much innovation and disruption, though I suppose it's harder to see in the archaeological record. I was going to say, "I can't imagine any other domestications that led to such widespread technological, cultural, and social changes as dogs and horses," but then my brain was like, "grain, dumbass."

" I would really have loved to see a good shot of the whole outfit from different angles. Just an itsy-bitsy bit of runway work is what I'm saying."
" I always want more wide establishing shots of things like this. If you're going to go to the trouble of making a video of one of these historical crafting endeavors, fucking linger on it."

I'm fairly sure the horse rider (/model) at the end was a woman, and a fairly slim and short one, because she appears to be riding a steppe pony, which are much smaller than "modern" horses (and require the rider to sit quite far forward over the horse's forelegs), and the original wearer of the clothing would have been much smaller than modern people generally, so I'm assuming the reproduction clothing was small and slim cut. She's also blond, I'm guessing, based on her arm hair, and young, based on her skin. I'm guessing that putting your young female grad student in the ferocious warrior clothes creates a bit of narrative dissonance, which is why they so carefully didn't show us anything above her breastbone.

Also, when she jumps on the horse, it's bareback, but if you look at 41:14 (before she mounts), you can see a saddle cinch of some sort. The horse shots are then REALLY carefully cut -- the first running shot I don't think anyone's on the horse at all, and then they cut to her, and you can't see if the horse has reins or something related to the strap. She doesn't appear to be on a saddle, but she might have stirrups.

I don't actually know anything about horses, I'm just obsessed with steppe horse nomads -- someone who actually knows about riding can probably tell from her posture/movement what equipment she has.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:01 PM on May 7 [14 favorites]


(And that kind of fixation on details that don't matter and how they relate to your minor historical obsessions is how you end up a ship truther, my friends.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:11 PM on May 7 [9 favorites]


I'm guessing that putting your young female grad student in the ferocious warrior clothes creates a bit of narrative dissonance, which is why they so carefully didn't show us anything above her breastbone.

I just finished watching this too and was very much wondering about that. Like, the trousers they found were clearly from a male warrior but without getting into a whole bunch of hand-wavey "when people were shorter and lived near the water" (which also has disappeared) stuff, it seemed like they decided to go with it this way. The original model with the mockup was a male appearing model of average model-seeming build.

But yeah "unfortunate crotch" seems to imply that that these were (maybe) mostly horse-riding pants and maybe when this guy was just chilling at home he wore skirts like everyone else. But you get buried in your fanciest gear, so....
posted by jessamyn at 8:31 PM on May 7 [3 favorites]


Really enjoyable video! I recently read Mefi-favorite ACOUP’s series on historical cloth making and I was prepared for the tedium of the wool spinning. Also weird to hear “Scythian” pronounced for the first time.
posted by migurski at 8:44 PM on May 7 [2 favorites]


"The original model with the mockup was a male appearing model of average model-seeming build."

Which was the one mocked up in (modern) muslin, I think? The legs on the muslin appear quite a bit longer, proportionally, than on the final product. They did say the seamstress mocked up several muslins, so best guess, that's the male grad student who was willing to let them try out the crotch construction to see how it worked with a penis and testicles inside it, since in that section they were talking about the crotch construction. Then there's a second, stockier man who wears the pants only at 40:08, and then the girl/woman at the end (whose hands and skin tone are clearly entirely different than the stocky man's, and who is slimmer).

I might actually have to try stitching a stepped-cross crotch onto two leg tubes (in doll-scale, of course), because I'm very curious about fitting the leg tubes to the steps. Here's the paper, btw, and the illustration of the construction (also here, larger, no paywall) skips a bit over how specifically you stitch the tubes to the stepped cross.

" I was prepared for the tedium of the wool spinning."

Yeah, it's really unbelievable how much time making clothing takes, with each step you get closer to the beginning taking longer. The sewing takes a while. The weaving takes longer. The spinning? TAKES FOREVER.

I really recommend the excellent (if now slightly outdated) "Women's Work: The First 20,000 Years" if you're interested in the history of textiles, and how incredibly much is lost from the historical record because fabrics wear and decay relatively quickly (while buildings do so more slowly); the insistence by early archaeologists on ignoring what little fiber evidence there was, because they were all men and a) knew nothing about it and b) were more interested in man-things like buildings; and how incredibly important fiber arts are human technology and culture.

Sort-of the classic example is, you don't get to computers without weaving machines with punch cards, and you don't get to those without heddle looms, and you don't get to those without warp-weighted looms, which you can't get to without SPUN THREAD, and somebody had to figure out how to spin thread relatively efficiently in fairly large quantities (with a drop spindle, mostly) to weave it in the first place. But if you watch a "development of mankind" sort of documentary, the classic thing is they're sitting around a fire naked and then some woman is stringing gut thread in a bone needle to sew (weirdly modernly cured) leather skins together, and then we jump ahead to Ancient Mesopotamia or somewhere and everybody has clothes. But duuuuuuuuuude there are so many crucial technological steps between "let's wrap skins around ourselves" and "hey, woven-fabric clothing!"

But "Women's Work: The First 20,000 Years" gives sooooooo many more examples with knots and suspension bridges and nets, and lots of examples of overlooked historical and archaeological information -- for example, trade routes and/or cultural contacts can often be traced by the dispersion of unusual embroidery stitches from one place to another. But if you are a manly archaeologist in 1920 who can't tell blackwork from sashiko at a glance, it's not going to occur to you to wonder how that particular piece of clothing from that particular place came to have that unusual geometric pattern embroidered on it, and whether that embroidery might suggest a chain of cultural contacts you might not yet have discovered.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:19 PM on May 7 [35 favorites]


Now I want the videos for the rest of the outfit. Like - the belt is almost certainly a wacky ancient technique called sprang, but they don’t show enough to tell (though the credit to Carol James is a giveaway that there’s some sprang involved). And that blouse!

The stripes on the crotch piece went wholly unmarked, but stripes don’t just happen on their own. These pants were fancy!!!
posted by janell at 9:25 PM on May 7 [6 favorites]


Incidentally, The Sprang Belts is the name of my new folk music band.
posted by Greg_Ace at 9:30 PM on May 7 [1 favorite]


janell, I wanted the same thing! I managed to find the Wikipedia page talking about the Silk Road Fashion interdisciplinary collaboration that this is a part of, but I can't find if it has a current landing page or anything. Still, several other papers are listed on the Wikipedia page!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:31 PM on May 7 [1 favorite]


And after you get done with Elizabeth Wayland Barber (as Eyebrows has perfectly described - both the Women’s Work book and the more technical ‘Prehistoric Textiles’), check out Nancy Arthur Hoskins. who has made a career, or a second one, of looking at the dots and stripes and whatever on ancient paintings and pottery... and then asked the questions about how the actual garments must have been produced. Which way the warp runs. What kind of loom. Woven-in or inlay or embroidery. Fascinating!
posted by janell at 9:31 PM on May 7 [6 favorites]


Wait! I found something! Bridging Eurasia! The old url lapsed!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:34 PM on May 7 [1 favorite]


Ötzi had a hat.
posted by clavdivs at 9:56 PM on May 7 [1 favorite]


Sort-of the classic example is, you don't get to computers without weaving machines with punch cards, and you don't get to those without heddle looms, and you don't get to those without warp-weighted looms, which you can't get to without SPUN THREAD, and somebody had to figure out how to spin thread relatively efficiently in fairly large quantities (with a drop spindle, mostly) to weave it in the first place

You can get to computers without punch cards because we have - Colossus for example:
To program on the Colossus computers, programmers would change how one of the hundreds of different wires were plugged into plugboards. By plugging in and unplugging the wires in different patterns, the programmers could instruct the computer on what operations to perform. These plugboards are similar to what telephone operators used to connect calls in the early days of the telephone.
And while one might think of punch cards when they think of ENIAC, that was similarly a feature added after its initial development:
[Peculiar] was the way in which instructions were set up on the machine. It was similar to the plug boards of small punched-card machines, but here we had about 40 plug boards, each several feet in size.
Even the successor to ENIAC, EDVAC, did not have punch card IO until it was upgraded with it in 1954. The Manchester Mark 1 similarly was initially programmed with keys and switches, with a paper tape reader added in 1949.

Punch cards were very convenient, though, and IBM's having standardized the encoding of information on them decades before we had computers ensured they became absolutely ubiquitous.

Magnetic tape was a thing after not too long, and had IBM's punch cards not already been s widespread in accounting even before real computers, it's an open question as to whether punched paper tape just would have just been invented on the spot or if the technology might have been skipped, which wold undoubtedly be a happier timeline. Imagine a world where programmers never had a day ruined by dropping what looked like a stack of index cards onto the floor,a 'hanging Chad' was just some surfer lingo, and no author put this sentence to paper:
"In fact, when Intel introduced its Pentium class of microprocessors, one of the advertisements had a "fabric of chips" emerging from a weaving machine; this picture eloquently captured the essence of chip making - a true blending of art and science - much like the design and production of textiles"
posted by floam at 11:29 PM on May 7 [3 favorites]




Despite being both a horse rider and a trouser-wearer it never occurred to me until now that trousers were, in fact, invented for riding. You might say they are horse-shaped as well as leg-shaped.
posted by GeorgeBickham at 5:52 AM on May 8 [9 favorites]


Also weird to hear “Scythian” pronounced for the first time.
I heard that too, but I don't think that's how you say it.
posted by Bee'sWing at 6:21 AM on May 8 [3 favorites]


“That's right, ladies and gentlemen! Consider the pant! You know, the Pants Association urges you to wear your pants at least three times a day!

The great men of our time have all worn pants! Roosevelt! Churchill! de Gaulle! Gandhi! Well, almost all of them!

Dolphins! One of the smartest mammals on Earth. Do they wear pants? No! But they wish they did! That's how smart they are!”
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:53 AM on May 8 [4 favorites]


It's the Greek, Σκύθης/Σκύθοι.
posted by notquitemaryann at 7:17 AM on May 8 [1 favorite]


(greek pronunciation of the new construction of Scythian rather, sorry, multitasking poorly atm)
posted by notquitemaryann at 7:23 AM on May 8 [2 favorites]


The letters C and J in ancient names are basically 100% misleading, aren't they?
posted by Huffy Puffy at 7:25 AM on May 8


You can get to computers without punch cards because...
But where did plugboards come from? I'm afraid it's punched cards all the way down.

[Slightly] sorry for continuing the derail. Nice video, nice post.
posted by MtDewd at 7:35 AM on May 8 [1 favorite]


(though the credit to Carol James is a giveaway that there’s some sprang involved)

They also have a video with James (in English with German subtitles) about the reproduction of the sprang belt!
posted by wreckingball at 8:23 AM on May 8 [5 favorites]


'Twine means two.'
One of the many things I learned from this post.
posted by MtDewd at 9:07 AM on May 8 [1 favorite]


I am not quite done with this yet, but it is SOOOO fascinating!! I love all of these scientists and geeks and artists and technicians coming together from around the world and going down this crazy rabbit hole to reverse-engineer the world's oldest pants. I have long been fascinated by the Tarim Basin region so also enjoying the tour of the area, as it were. and sheep haircuts!! baaa!!

awesome post!
posted by supermedusa at 10:08 AM on May 8 [1 favorite]


"Linger on the unfortunate crotch"

Really not one of the stronger tracks off Kate Bush's The Dreaming.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 10:29 AM on May 8 [2 favorites]


Sometimes it can take a while and a good reason (ie, a global pandemic really old pants) to bring disparate specialized subject-matter experts together.
posted by supermedusa at 10:34 AM on May 8


Experimental archeology is such a great field, and this is a great video. I had seen the trousers somewhere and admired the beautiful design, and it is so interesting to see their discovery proces. Already first time I saw the trousers, I thought they were designed for riding. Before we had stretch materials, breeches had weird shapes to allow for the way one's legs are positioned on a horse. Maybe I have my grandmother's woolen breeches somewhere still. They were scratchy.
I'm wondering if that heavier weave at the knee helped prevent the textile from climbing up. When you are riding bare-back, your hips, thighs and knees are pretty much fixed to the horse, while the lower leg is hanging loosely (as you can see on countless ancient depictions of riders). This can lead to some really irritating textile movement around the knee.
Stirrups arrived much later than the trousers described in the video and it wouldn't have been comfortable to wear these trousers with stirrups. But while the article I have linked to describes riding a horse (without stirrups as) rather difficult, it really isn't. Stirrups are mostly important because they improve the rider's ability to balance heavy weapons, like spears and lances, as described in the article. Think of it, if it was difficult to ride without stirrups, stirrups would have been invented thousands of years before they were. You do use a different set of muscles from when you walk or run, as they mention in the video.
I also wonder if the early steppe horses were five-gaited, which would have made them even easier to ride on long distances.

An other field of research where textiles are essential but largely untold about is ships. Who wove the giant sails of the bronze age ships of the Homerian heros or the Viking raiders? We don't know much. But they must have been huge enterprises and technologically advanced.
posted by mumimor at 12:27 PM on May 8 [6 favorites]



Also weird to hear “Scythian” pronounced for the first time.
I heard that too, but I don't think that's how you say it.


Praise be, I was not ready to be that wrong for that much of my life. They can shove those "scootians" right back where they came from.
posted by Meatbomb at 1:11 PM on May 8 [1 favorite]


the unfortunate crotch

Possibly the best user name.

MetaFilter: You might say they are horse-shaped as well as leg-shaped.
posted by GenjiandProust at 1:24 PM on May 8 [1 favorite]


> "'I can't imagine any other domestications that led to such widespread technological, cultural, and social changes as dogs and horses,' but then my brain was like, 'grain, dumbass.'"

And maybe yeast?
posted by kyrademon at 1:30 PM on May 8


They can shove those "scootians" right back where they came from.

The theta in Greek was traditionally pronounced like "th" in English, as recently as in my academic lifetime. Recently, though, opinion has swung to a t plosive. Like if the beginning of "talk" if you emphasize the puff of air after the t.

Epsilon is "ooooo."

So, I'm afraid they're right, at least as far as we can know, but thirty years ago, it would've been controversial.
posted by praemunire at 2:08 PM on May 8


I'm glad that someone invented the Trousers, and I'm hopeful that I'll get my turn on them soon. My legs are pretty chilly right now tbh.
posted by howfar at 3:31 PM on May 8


For anyone interested in pre-modern textile production, Bret Devereaux has an excellent series covering the growing of fibers all the way to finished clothing.
posted by porpoise at 4:41 PM on May 8 [2 favorites]


“That's right, ladies and gentlemen! Consider the pant! ...”
posted by The Underpants Monster


Epantsysterical
posted by Greg_Ace at 5:07 PM on May 8 [4 favorites]


the trousers they found were clearly from a male warrior but without getting into a whole bunch of hand-wavey "when people were shorter and lived near the water"

"When PEO-ple were SHOR-ter and LIVED near the WA-ter" tum tiddley tum tiddley tum tee…

When people were shorter
And lived by the water
Some women found ponies to ride.

But men in tight breeches
Hopped off with wild screeches
Attempting to gallop astride.

So some unknown saviour
Who saw this behaviour
Sewed gussets into the men's pants

Their design was fateful;
The Scythians were grateful;
It accounts for their bowlegged stance.
posted by Joe in Australia at 12:15 AM on May 9 [15 favorites]


That poem couldn’t have been better even with iambic pantameter!
posted by The Underpants Monster at 1:07 AM on May 9 [3 favorites]


Everyone's a cretic.
posted by howfar at 2:23 AM on May 9 [1 favorite]


(mine is neither a good pun, nor metrically accurate, but "amphibrach" doesn't give us much to work with. C'mon Joe, think of the peanut gallery...)
posted by howfar at 2:27 AM on May 9 [2 favorites]


What an interesting video! Does anyone know if he had underwear? Did people wear underwear with their skirts?
posted by starfishprime at 3:12 AM on May 9


I find it hard to imagine they didn't have breechcloths, if nothing else.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:37 AM on May 9


I posted a comment a couple hours after this story was posted with a query, and either it was deleted or my WiFi was worse than I thought it was, I am just noticing. I'm reposting what I recall asking because it doesn't make sense it could have been deleted.

Why are these being called trousers and not pants? How could the distinction of specificity be meaningful 3000 years ago? Especially since everything then was custom tailored I imagine. I think these are pants and calling them trousers is quite going overboard.
posted by floam at 6:40 AM on May 9


I think these are pants and calling them trousers is quite going overboard.

I think it's just regional variation, and the fact that there isn't a clear distinction in meaning between the words in general usage (even though some argots and dialects in English do distinguish). Merriam Webster gives "trousers" as a synonym for pants, OED gives "pants" as a synonym for trousers. The video is German in origin, but the narrator and translations are using British English, so "trousers" is probably just the more natural way to translate "Hose/n", particularly as British English normally (although not exclusively) uses "pants" to refer to underpants.
posted by howfar at 7:12 AM on May 9 [3 favorites]


The world's oldest shoes are on display at the University of Oregon Museum of Natural and Cultural History.
posted by neuron at 10:01 AM on May 9


Americans visiting the UK are likely to be giggled at when they say pants rather than trousers. Also when they say fanny.
posted by Bee'sWing at 11:06 AM on May 9


I remember, when I was a child watching the (distinctly lesser) John Candy film Armed & Dangerous with my parents, being more than a little perturbed by Meg Ryan's character remarking, after dancing with the villain as part of some sort of undercover operation, that "I must have a complete set of Carlino's fingerprints on my fanny by now". Hardly the most edifying piece of scripting even as intended, and just plain disturbing after taking the linguistic gap into account.
posted by howfar at 1:37 PM on May 9


I thought the world’s oldest shoes were at the back of my closet.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 2:31 PM on May 9 [1 favorite]


When talking to Britons I try to find an excuse to use the term 'overpants', so far without success.
posted by Marticus at 4:44 PM on May 9 [1 favorite]


Maybe you should call them "thick pants". E.g.,
And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething,
As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,
A mighty fountain momently was forced:
Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst
Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail ...
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:35 PM on May 9 [3 favorites]


Explosively destructive clothing is decidedly not what I had on my calendar to worry about today, so thanks ever so much for that.
posted by Greg_Ace at 7:52 PM on May 9


Reads more like explosive diarrhoea to me.
posted by Marticus at 10:14 PM on May 9


Hold up.... you don't pronounce the C in Scythian??? WTF
posted by soakimbo at 10:30 PM on May 9


I've had this in a tab waiting until I could sit down and enjoy it, but...

The dig site is right in the middle of Xinjiang, where the Chinese government is overseeing a cultural genocide of the Uyghur population of the area. I can't watch this and not wonder of the German Archaeological Institute is complicit in that, if only by eliding it, so that they don't have their access to the area restricted. I've searched online a bit, but haven't seen any statements from the institute about this, so I'm going to regretfully leave this documentary be.

I'd also like to see some relevant tags for this issue added to the post.
posted by ursus_comiter at 10:51 PM on June 1 [2 favorites]


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