The world’s oldest trousers? 3,000-year-old clothing found in China

Kane Khanh | Archeaology
November 4, 2023

Are these the world’s oldest trousers? 3,000-year-old clothing discovered in ancient Chinese tomb

A pair of trousers found in a Chinese graveyard might just be the oldest ever found.

The clothing is thought to date back a staggering 3,000 years, and despite the fact the ancient apparel has undergone considerable wear and tear, it still looks remarkably intact.

The find was made along with a host of other clothing items in the Yanghai tombs in China’s vast Tarim Basin.

What are thought to be the world’s oldest trousers (pictured) have been discovered in one of the Yanghai tombs in China’s Tarim Basin. The trousers are made of three bits of cloth, one for each leg and one for the crotch, stitched together. A woven decoration is also visible on the trousers, thought to have been used for horse riding

The trousers, which could actually date up to 3,300 years old, are thought to be the oldest ever discovered.


A new paper by Ulrike Beck and colleagues of the German Archaeological Institute in Berlin suggests the invention of trousers is linked to horseback riding.

Finds, such as the one reported at the Yahghai cemetery, highlight fragments of woollen trousers dating back to the 13th and 10th centuries BC.

The age of the trousers corresponds to the known age of horse riding, which is thought to have begun up to 4,000 years ago.

‘Together with horse gear and weapons as grave goods in both tombs our results specify former assumptions that the invention of bifurcated [split into two parts] lower body garments is related to the new epoch of horseback riding, mounted warfare and greater mobility,’ wrote the researchers.

‘Trousers are essential parts of the tool kit with which humans improve their physical qualities.’

They signify a period when people needed new clothing for horse riding.

Older clothing such as robes and togas were not suitable for riding, leading to the rise in popularity of trousers.

The finding was reported in a paper for the Quaternary International.

‘This new paper definitely supports the idea that trousers were invented for horse riding by mobile pastoralists, and that trousers were brought to the Tarim Basin by horse-riding peoples,’ linguist Victor Mair from the University of Pennsylvania told ScienceNews.

Horse riding is thought to have begun up to 4,000 years ago, suggesting that trousers, too, could have originated that far back.

The discovery at Yanghai were of two men thought to be 40 years-old, wearing the trousers.

The clothing suggests they were herders – but they were likely warriors, too.

Among the items recovered with the men were a whip, a wooden horse bit, a battle-axe and a bow.

The find was made along with a host of other clothing items in the Yanghai tombs in China’s vast Tarim Basin

Other items have also been found as part of the project known as Silk Road Fashion. These include various garments dating back 3,000 years discovered in eastern central Asia. A fur coat (pictured being analysed by German and Chinese scientists), is among the finds and each of the relics is said to be of great value

The age of the trousers was estimated using radiocarbon dating and their design, perhaps understandably, was fairly primitive compared to modern standards.

In total. the two pairs were each made of three pieces of cloth – one for each leg and one for the crotch.

A ‘belt’ of sorts had been fashioned from strings, while the garments themselves were decorated with a woven design.

The Yanghai tombs are a vast ancient cemetery spanning approximately 580,000 square feet (54,000 square metres).

The hot and dry climate in the area known as the Tarim Basin has helped to preserve corpses, clothing and other artefacts for thousands of years.

Since digs at the site began in the 1970s, over 500 tombs have been excavated with numerous finds made.