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The world’s oldest pants stitched together cultures from across Asia

What little rain that falls on a gravelly desert located in western China’s Tarim Basin evaporates as it hits the blistering turf. Here, in this parched wasteland, lie the ancient remains of people who made one of the biggest fashion splashes of all time.

Herders and horse riders who buried their dead in the Tarim Basin’s Yanghai graveyard pioneered pants making between roughly 3,200 and 3,000 years ago. Their deft combination of weaving techniques and decorative patterns — displaying influences from societies across Eurasia — yielded a pair of stylish yet durable trousers now recognized as the oldest such garment known in the world (SN: 5/30/14).

Now, an international team of archaeologists, fashion designers, geoscientists, chemists and conservators has untangled how those trousers were made and painstakingly created a modern replica. The vintage slacks weave a tale not only of textile innovation but also of how cultural practices fanned out across Asia, the researchers report in the March Archaeological Research in Asia.

“A diversity of textile techniques and patterns of different local origins, traditions and times merged into something new in this garment,” says archaeologist and project director Mayke Wagner of the German Archaeological Institute in Berlin. “Eastern Central Asia was a laboratory where people, plants, animals, knowledge and experiences from different directions and sources came … and were transformed.”

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