Ancient Hellenistic Harbor Discovered In Acre, Israel
By Alisa Odenheimer - Jul 17, 2012 3:02 PM GMT
An ancient harbor where warships may have docked 2,300 years ago has been discovered by archaeologists in the Israeli port city of Acre.
The harbor, the largest and most important found in Israel from the Hellenistic period, was uncovered during archaeological excavations carried out as part of a seawall conservation project, the Israel Antiquities Authority said today. Among the finds were large mooring stones incorporated in the quay and used to secure sailing vessels, the IAA said.
“This unique and important find finally provides an unequivocal answer to the question of whether we are dealing with port installations or the floor of a building,” said Kobi Sharvit, director of the IAA’s marine archaeology unit, of the mooring stones.
The excavations also uncovered collapsed stones that possibly belonged to large buildings which were spread over dozens of meters, Sharvit said.
“What emerges from these finds is a clear picture of systematic and deliberate destruction of the port facilities that occurred in antiquity,” Sharvit said.
The excavation will continue in those sections of the harbor that extend in the direction of the sea, the IAA said. The archaeologists will try to clarify if there is a connection between the destruction of the harbor and the Hasmonean uprising in 167 B.C., the destruction wrought by Ptolemy in 312 B.C. or some other event.
Parts of the quay continue beneath the Ottoman city wall, and it may not be possible to excavate these, it said.
Along with the mooring stones, thousands of fragments of pottery vessels, as well as unbroken vessels and metallic objects were found. Preliminary identification of the pottery vessels indicates that many of them come from port cities in the Aegean Sea, including Knidos, Rhodes and Kos.
Mystery of Lost Roman City Solved: Ancients Greened the Desert?
Monumental ruins provide solid evidence of centuries of Roman rule at Syria's Palmyra.
Photograph by Annie Griffiths, National Geographic
for National Geographic News
Published July 18, 2012
Today it's a mirage-like expanse of monumental ruins. But under the Roman Empire, Palmyra was a trading metropolis, according to historical and archaeological evidence.
Despite nearly a century of research, though, a key question remains unanswered: How did this city of 200,000 thrive in the middle of an infertile Syrian desert?
Once a required stop on caravan routes that brought Asian goods west to eager Romans, Palmyra has "always been conceived as an oasis in the middle of the desert, but it's never been quite clear what it was living from," said Michal Gawlikowski, the retired head of the University of Warsaw's Polish Mission at Palmyra.
And what an oasis: Among the ruins are grand avenues lined with columns, triumphal arches, and the remains of an ancient market where traders once haggled over silk, silver, spices, and dyes from India and China.
To find out what made it all possible, archaeologist Jørgen Christian Meyer began a four-year survey of the 40 square miles (104 square kilometers) just north of Palmyra in 2008. The area was targeted for its mountainous terrain, which channels precious rainwater to otherwise dry streambeds—making the region marginally less hostile to agriculture.
Through ground inspections and satellite images, the archaeologists eventually found outlines of more than 20 farming villages within a few days' walk of the city—adding to about 15 smaller settlements previously uncovered by other researchers to the west of Palmyra.
Crucially, the researchers also found traces of extensive networks of man-made reservoirs and channels to capture and store the rainfall from sudden, seasonal storms, said Meyer, of the University of Bergen in Norway.
The landscape around the city, it now appears, was intensively farmed and most likely included olive, fig, and pistachio groves—crops known in the region from Roman accounts and still common in Syria. Barley too was grown, according to a pollen analysis Meyer's team conducted on a mud brick from the survey area.
It may be tempting to pin Palmyra's shifting agricultural fortunes on climate change, Meyer said, but his money is on human ingenuity.
"There has been a very intense discussion about climate changes since antiquity, and some researchers use this as an explanation of almost everything—the fall of empires, etc.—but there is more or less consensus that the macroclimate has not changed dramatically since antiquity."
Though the area north of Palmyra is a dry steppe, Meyer added, it has "huge potential for farming if you invest the time and energy in controlling the resources."
The ancient residents, he estimated, managed to capture and channel the 5 to 6 inches (12 to 15 centimeters) of annual rainfall. The system lasted until about the year 700, archaeological evidence suggests—roughly the post-Roman period during which Palmyra began falling into ruin.
The findings already appear to be changing how scholars look at Palmyra.
"This proves there were farms around Palmyra, and they were cultivating wheat and other grain," said the University of Warsaw's Gawlikowski, who wasn't involved in the new research.
"It's now clear they were feeding the city."
The new picture also helps explain the city's ancient prominence as a distribution hub, despite its difficult location.
After travelling from Asia via the Indian Ocean or Persian Gulf, Europe-bound goods were floated partly up the Euphrates River, then off-loaded and carried by caravan across Syria—via Palmyra—to Mediterranean ports.
Other routes—floating goods farther north on the Euphrates to what's now Turkey, for example, or along the Red Sea and up the Nile—would have been more direct and might even have been faster.
So why cut across the desert on camelback?
The answer, project leader Meyer said, has everything to do with profits—and those newfound farms.
Two thousand years ago Palmyra was in a chaotic region sandwiched between the mighty Romans to the west and the Parthian and Persian empires to the east. Small kingdoms, each demanding payment, lined the Euphrates.
By contrast, the desert caravan hub likely offered a one-stop alternative to all the river taxes—and it was made possible largely by those surrounding croplands, Meyer said.
Local farmers, he theorized, cooperated with the nomadic herders who brought caravan-ready camels and sheep to Palmyra, allowing them to graze after the harvest.
That grazing, Meyer added, would have had a side benefit, as the animals helped fertilize the fields. "The nomads come with their herds and leave a small present, and get water in return."
The dusty outlines of reservoirs may fail to inspire the imagination—or the tourism trade—the way Palmyra proper's temples and amphitheater have. But archaeologist Cynthia Finlayson says Meyer's work is monumental in its own way.
When archaeologists focus only on "elite buildings, we miss what's going on in other parts of society," said Finlayson, a Palmyra scholar at Brigham Young University in Utah, who wasn't part of the project.
"Christian's work is really important. It's filling in a lot of gaps."
Even so, many gaps remain, and it's not clear when, or if, they'll be filled.
Meyer, for example, didn't have time to do any digging before armed conflict in Syria prompted his departure last spring. "We would like to have excavations to get a more detailed idea of the chronology," he said. "But as things look now, I don't know if that will be possible."
The violence and chaos in Syria threatens to do more than just delay research.
Finlayson, who was part of the last U.S. team to leave Syria in 2011, said the countryside around Palmyra has become home to well-armed antigovernment militias, leaving the government eager for armed assistance.
"All the local police and Department of Antiquity police," she said, "are being pulled away to help the central government, and that leaves sites vulnerable."
An olive stone from 1st century BC links pre-Roman Britain to today's pizzeria
Archaeologists have unearthed a charred stone that suggests the Mediterranean diet came to these islands during the Iron Age
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 19 July 2012 17.42 BST
Iron Age Britons were importing olives from the Mediterranean a century before the Romans arrived with their exotic tastes in food, say archaeologists who have discovered a single olive stone from an excavation of an Iron Age well at at Silchester in Hampshire.
The stone came from a layer securely dated to the first century BC, making it the earliest ever found in Britain – but since nobody ever went to the trouble of importing one olive, there must be more, rotted beyond recognition or still buried.
The stone, combined with earlier finds of seasoning herbs such as coriander, dill and celery, all previously believed to have arrived with the Romans, suggests a diet at Silchester that would be familiar in any high street pizza restaurant.
The excavators, led by Professor Mike Fulford of Reading University, also found another more poignant luxury import: the skeleton of a tiny dog, no bigger than a modern toy poodle, carefully buried, curled up as if in sleep. However it may not have met a peaceful end.
"It was fully grown, two or three years old, and thankfully showed no signs of butchery, so it wasn't a luxury food or killed for its fur," Fulford said. "But it was found in the foundations of a very big house we are still uncovering – 50 metres long at least – so we believe it may turn out to be the biggest Iron Age building in Britain, which must have belonged to a chief or a sub chief, a very big cheese in the town. And whether this little dog conveniently died just at the right time to be popped into the foundations, or whether it was killed as a high status offering, we cannot tell.
"The survival of the olive stone, which was partly charred, was a freak of preservation. But there must be more; we need to dig a lot more wells."
Fulford has been leading the annual summer excavations at Silchester, which bring together hundreds of student, volunteer and professional archaeologists, for half a lifetime, and the site continues to throw up surprises. It was an important Roman town, but deliberately abandoned in the 7th century, its wells blocked up and its buildings tumbled, and never reoccupied. Apart from a few Victorian farm buildings, it is still open farmland, surrounded by the jagged remains of massive Roman walls.
Fulford now believes that the town was at its height a century before the Roman invasion in 43AD, with regularly planned, paved streets, drainage, shops, houses and workshops, trading across the continent for luxury imports of food, household goods and jewellery, enjoying a lifestyle in Britain that, previously, was believed to have arrived with the Romans.
This sodden summer have driven the archaeologists to despair, with the site a swamp of deep mud and water bubbling up in every hole and trench.
"Conditions are the worst I can ever remember. Ironically, the wells are the easiest to work in because we have the pumps running there," Fulford said.
The tiny dog is one of dozens that the team has excavated here over the years, including one that was buried standing up as if on guard for 2,000 years. A unique knife with a startlingly realistic carving of two dogs mating was another of the spectacular finds from one of the most enigmatic sites in the country.
Visitors can observe the archaeologists' trench warfare this weekend, when the site opens to the public as part of the national festival of archaeology, one of thousands of events across the country.
Archaeology and the Olympics
London 2012 Volume 65 Number 4, July/August 2012 by Nadia Durrani
Summer 2012, and the world’s greatest athletes are gathering in London for the Olympics. In advance of the Games, a square mile of semiderelict land in East London’s Lower Lea Valley has been turned into a fully equipped Olympic Park. This has transformed a run-down industrial district into a leafy urban park containing modern amenities including an athletes’ village, basketball arena, and the Olympic stadium. British law decrees that archaeological assessments must be undertaken before such developments, so between 2007 and 2009, the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) archaeologists set to work, digging into London’s past.
They excavated no fewer than 121 trenches, recovered more than 10,000 artifacts, and revealed evidence of at least 6,000 years of human activity—from the area’s first prehistoric hunters and farmers to World War II defense structures. In addition, they recorded all of the site’s still-standing historic buildings. Alongside this work, thousands of boreholes were sunk deep into the earth, revealing an environmental and geoarchaeological picture of the area over the past 12,000 years.
Completing the task was herculean. Though lying only three miles northeast of the glitz and glamor of central London, just five years ago this was still a neglected and largely unoccupied area. The archaeologists were faced with dilapidated buildings, general construction waste, and a deep accumulation of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century domestic garbage. Much of this garbage had been imported from nearby areas by people wishing to substantially raise the ground in order to settle on what was then low-lying and marshy land. Added to this, an 1844 act ruled that dangerous and so-called “dirty noxious” industries, such as printing works or chemical manufacturers, had to be moved out of central London. Many relocated here, an area already known for its industry. For the archaeologists, this meant that the ground was often chemically contaminated, waterlogged, or indeed both.
Handheld trowels and shovels would not suffice. Simply to break through the layers of city detritus, heavy construction equipment operators removed several hundred tons of soil for each trench, often to a depth of around 15 feet, and in one location, almost 30 feet. Only after the operators got past this recent debris could the team begin to explore the earlier archaeology. This was a mighty task. To avoid any risk of collapse under the weight of the surrounding land, the trenches had to be stepped down, with large trenches at the top narrowing to relatively small areas at the base. “Where trenches were particularly deep, we often had to further secure their sides using steel supports,” explains Gary Brown, fieldwork project manager of Pre-Construct Archaeology. Once the sites were safe, the diggers were kitted up with protective equipment, including disposable overalls, gloves, rubber boots, protective glasses, and even face masks.
Digging in London, with its long and complex history, is always difficult and time-consuming, and these excavations were certainly no exception. However, the results have been worth it. “The archaeology covered a huge swath of time and geography,” says project director Nick Bateman of Museum of London Archaeology. “We now have the first long-term, large-scale picture of life in this part of East London, an area first settled in prehistory, and in more recent times, one that became so significant to the development of the modern city.” Had it not been for the Olympic Park’s construction, this formerly impoverished, waterlogged, outlying part of historic London simply would not have been explored on this scale.
According to Simon Wright, head of venues and infrastructure at the ODA, “Not only have we transformed the Olympic Park into the largest urban park to be created in the United Kingdom for more than 100 years, but we have uncovered its past in the process.”
The story of archaeology of the Olympic Park, Renewing the Past: Unearthing the History of the Olympic Park Site, will be available soon. For further details of the excavations, visit learninglegacy.london2012.com
"Dramatic" New Maya Temple Found, Covered With Giant Faces
Archaeological "gold mine" illuminates connection between king and sun god.
for National Geographic News
Published July 20, 2012
Some 1,600 years ago, the Temple of the Night Sun was a blood-red beacon visible for miles and adorned with giant masks of the Maya sun god as a shark, blood drinker, and jaguar.
Long since lost to the Guatemalan jungle, the temple is finally showing its faces to archaeologists, and revealing new clues about the rivalrous kingdoms of the Maya.
Unlike the relatively centralized Aztec and Inca empires, the Maya civilization—which spanned much of what are now Guatemala, Belize, and Mexico's Yucatán region —was a loose aggregation of city-states.
"This has been a growing awareness to us since the 1990s, when it became clear that a few kingdoms were more important than others," said Brown University archaeologist Stephen Houston, who announced the discovery of the new temple Thursday.
El Zotz, in what's now Guatemala, was one of the smaller kingdoms, but one apparently bent on making an big impression.
By 2010 archaeologists working on a hilltop near the ancient city center had discovered 45-foot-tall (13-meter-tall) Diablo Pyramid, Atop it they found a royal palace and a tomb, believed to hold the city's first ruler, who lived around A.D. 350 to 400.
Around the same time, Houston and a colleague spotted the first hints of the Temple of the Night Sun, behind the royal tomb on Diablo Pyramid. Only recently, though, have excavations uncovered the unprecedented artworks under centuries of overgrowth.
The sides of the temple are decorated with 5-foot-tall (1.5-meter-tall) stucco masks showing the face of the sun god changing as he traverses the sky over the course of a day.
One mask is sharklike, likely a reference to the sun rising from the Caribbean in the east, Houston said.
The noonday sun is depicted as an ancient being with crossed eyes who drank blood, and a final series of masks resemble the local jaguars, which awake from their jungle slumbers at dusk.
In Maya culture the sun is closely associated with new beginnings and the sun god with kingship, Houston explained. So the presence of solar visages on a temple next to a royal tomb may signify that the person buried inside was the founder of a dynasty—El Zotz's first king.
It's an example of "how the sun itself would have been grafted onto the identity of kings and the dynasties that would follow them," he said in a press statement.
Maya archaeologist David Freidel added, "Houston's hypothesis is likely correct that the building was dedicated to the sun as a deity closely linked to rulership. The Diablo Pyramid will certainly advance our knowledge of Early Classic Maya religion and ritual practice."
Houston's team also found hints that the Maya, who added new layers to the temple over generations, regarded the building as a living being. For example, the noses and mouths of the masks in older, deeper layers of the temple were systematically disfigured.
"This is actually quite common in Maya culture," Houston told National Geographic News. "It's very hard to find any Mayan depiction of the king that doesn't have its eyes mutilated or its nose hacked ... but 'mutilation' is not the appropriate term to describe it. I see it as more of a deactivation.
"It's as if they're turning the masks off in preparation for replicating them in subsequent layers ... It's not an act of disrespect. It's quite the opposite."
Maya scholar Simon Martin said the masks on the newfound El Zotz temple are "completely unique" and valuable, because they could help verify theories about Maya portrayals of the sun god.
"We have images of the sun god at different stages ... but we've never found anything that puts it all together," said Martin, of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, who was not involved in the project.
"We've had to assemble [the sequence] from bits and pieces of information and just trust that we got it right. This could be an opportunity to see the whole thing stage by stage."
The temple is also wonderfully well preserved, Martin added, making it a "real gold mine of information."
"We've seen a few places where whole buildings have been preserved," he said. "But normally what happens is [the Maya] smashed up a building and then built on top of it, so when you dig into a building you don't find very much of their decoration."
By contrast, Maya workers at El Zotz went to great pains to preserve the original temple structure, going so far as padding it with earth and small rocks before building on top of it.
Archaeologist Karl Taube points out the craftsmanship of the masks. "They're three-dimensional. The faces push out of the side of the facade. You don't really see that very often ... because if they project too much they fall off. But here they were able to pull it off.
"With the play of light on these things, the faces would have been extremely dramatic," said Taube, of the University of California, Riverside (UCR),who also was not involved in the project.
Project leader Houston added that the masks' color—crimson, according to paint traces—would have also helped them stand out. "With that bright red pigment, it would have had a particularly marked effect at dawn and at the setting of the sun," Houston said.
Blazing red and perched on high, the Temple of the Night Sun was meant "to see and to be seen," Houston said.
Importantly, it would have been noticeable from Tikal, a larger, older, and more powerful kingdom that El Zotz may or may not have been on friendly terms with.
"We tend to think of kings being completely autonomous, but for the Maya, a sacred king was often part of a hierarchy of kings," the Penn Museum's Martin said.
"So the people at El Zotz at times may have been heavily under the influence of Tikal, and when powers were weak at Tikal, they may have been completely independent or may have linked themselves with more powerful kings somewhere else."
Despite the obvious care that was taken to construct and preserve the newfound temple, it wasn't used for long. Evidence at the site suggests the building was abandoned sometime in the fifth century, for reasons unknown.
"It's like they just dropped their tools and left" in the middle of once again expanding the temple, Houston said. "I think what you're looking at is the death of a dynasty."
The answer to this mystery and others could become evident as more of the Temple of the Night Sun is uncovered.
"Only 30 percent of this facade has been exposed," UCR's Taube said. "I think there're going to be a lot more discoveries and a broader understanding of what this building actually shows in the future."
Dogs search for ancient remains on wind farm project site near Ocotillo
Institute for Canine Forensics
GALLERY: Ocotillo Canine Forensics
By ALEJANDRO DAVILA
11:45 p.m. PDT, July 17, 2012
OCOTILLO — As the rising sun bathed the desert where a controversial 112-wind-turbine project is being built, dog handler John Grebenkemper walked his forensic dog Tuesday morning hoping it would detect the scent of cremated ancient Native Americans.
“They only (find) human remains’ scent,” Grebenkemper said referring to forensic dogs like his, Keyle, which was trained with old bones and dried teeth to identify human remains at archaeological sites such as the ones thought to be abundant in the Ocotillo area.
Grebenkemper was just one of a team of dog handlers commissioned to find potential cremation sites in what is the latest effort to preserve sensitive areas throughout the construction of the Ocotillo Wind Express facility.
The project’s developers, Pattern Energy, agreed Tuesday afternoon to hold off construction near three of the project’s towers after a number of additional potential cremation sites were discovered, said a spokesman with one of the area tribes.
The tribes have long maintained cultural and archaeological resources will be permanently affected by the project.
The Kumeyaay, the Cocopah and the Quechan are now funding this forensic effort, said Jeff Riolo, representative of the Manzanita Tribe of Kumeyaay Indians.
This is the second time forensic dogs have been hired to scan the desert in the past couple of months.
The team was successful in the first search back in May, as forensic dogs identified some seven potential archaeological sites within the project’s area.
And just last week, the Institute for Canine Forensics — which dub itself as the only historic human remains detection canine search team in the world — was hired again for a handful of days in hope of finding more sites.
“We couldn’t wait until the fall because by then everything will be disturbed,” said Riolo, who added that at least another nine potential archaeological sites were found since the team was rehired.
Native Americans call this area “the Valley of the Dead for a reason,” Riolo said. “There are (cremation sites) all over the place,” he said.
These potential archaeological sites are deemed “confirmed” when at least two dogs alert to an area, said Jennifer Peterson, a third-party monitor in charge of overseeing the forensic team on behalf of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.
Moments later, Institute for Canine Forensics dog handler and team leader Adela Morris saw her dog alerting to an area. She said she knows when the dog has found something of interest by observing the dog’s body language.
In this case, the dog sniffed around a particular area and then sat on a spot that Morris eventually marked with a flag and then with a Global Positioning System.
This is an event that occurred various times over the course of the morning, with one dog handler recording at least six potential sites a little before 7 a.m. Furthermore, at least two sites were seen corroborated by other dogs around that time.
Morris later that morning noted that it was still unclear how many sites were found and confirmed. By Tuesday afternoon, however, the number of potential cremation sites was a total of 32, “and those are confirmed hits,” said Robert Scheid, spokesman for the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians.
This figure comes by covering just 200 acres of the 12,000 total acres the turbine project will cover and includes May’s findings, he said.
The tribes are now posed with the question of presenting this area to the Native American Heritage Commission, an organization that can declare the area sanctified, he said.
But in the meantime, when sites are confirmed, a report is written and the information is provided to Pattern and the BLM. What Pattern then does is consider these sites “environmentally sensitive and they protect them,” Peterson said.
Protecting sites means an area is marked for exclusion, the project is redesigned and a proposed turbine is placed elsewhere, Riolo said while noting Pattern has so far responded to every finding submitted.
Pattern is aware of the canine search activity being conducted, according to a statement made through Pattern Energy’s Chief Executive Officer Mike Garland. Pattern has spent millions of dollars to identify cultural resources for several years, in compliance with the BLM, and has designed the project to minimize impacts on all cultural resources, Garland said.
Pattern remains committed to avoiding impacts to known cultural resources, he said, but notes Pattern has “reserved judgment on the results because we are not aware of research that supports canine searches as a reliable and proven method for identifying ancient cremation sites.”
And whether these sites are actual ancient cremation sites seems to be left unclear on purpose.
Further research on any potential site doesn’t occur because “the only way to take the doubts out of it would be to excavate and that would destroy the area,” Peterson said.
This is something not even the tribes are interested in having, since Native Americans want sites to be left alone, Riolo said.
Forensic dogs are expected to be out in the field today. However, funding to pay the forensic team is running out, and when that happens, “we are done,” Riolo said.
Staff Writer Alejandro Davila can be reached at 760-337-3445 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Archaeologists uncover Mona Lisa model's remains
July 18, 20127:10AM
Archeologists are uncovering the remains of what they believe is the model behind Leonardo da Vinci's "Mona Lisa". Source: AdelaideNow
IT'S the face that launched a thousand imitations. Now, archaeologists are convinced they've found the body of the real Mona Lisa.
Buried in a crypt beneath a convent in Florence, Italy, archaeologists believe they have uncovered the skeleton belonging to the model who posed for Leonardo da Vinci's masterpiece in 1504.
The wife of a rich silk merchant, Lisa Gheradini, is generally accepted by historians to be the woman with the mysterious smile.
Lisa Gheradini, whose married name was Giocondo, became a nun after her husband's death. She was buried in the grounds of the Convent of Saint Ursula where she died in 1542, aged 63.
Archaeologists had to dig through thick concrete laid as part of an effort to turn the convent into barracks for soldiers.
But they quickly unearthed a female-sized human skull, along with fragments of vertebrae and ribs.
It was right where ancient maps and documents had led them to believe Lisa's body had been placed: a crypt reached via a gate and staircase.
The dig was suspended after the archaeologists ran out of funds, but work began again last month.
They have since unearthed a large part of a human skeleton.
However, archeologist Silvano Vinceti, who is in charge of the dig, said it was not certain if the bones belonged to the same individual.
DNA will be extracted from the bones and compared with the remains of Lisa's children, who were buried nearby.
Once her identity is verified, archeologists will use reconstruction techniques on the skull to see how it compares to the face on da Vinci's idyllic painting.
Professor Vincenti claimed last year that hidden initials could be found in the eyes of the Mona Lisa when examined under a high-powered microscope.
Why Do We Wear Pants? A: Horses
By Alexis Madrigal
Jul 11 2012
The surprisingly deep history of trouser technology.
Whence came pants? I’m wearing pants right now. There’s a better than 50 percent chance that you, too, are wearing pants. And neither of us have probably asked ourselves a simple question: Why?
It turns out the answer is inexplicably bound up with the Roman Empire, the unification of China, gender studies, and the rather uncomfortable positioning of man atop horse, at least according to University of Connecticut evolutionary biologist Peter Turchin.
“Historically there is a very strong correlation between horse-riding and pants,” Turchin wrote in a blog post this week. “In Japan, for example, the traditional dress is kimono, but the warrior class (samurai) wore baggy pants (sometimes characterized as a divided skirt), hakama. Before the introduction of horses by Europeans (actually, re-introduction – horses were native to North America, but were hunted to extinction when humans first arrived there), civilized Amerindians wore kilts.”
The reasons why pants are advantageous when mounted atop a horse should be obvious, nonetheless, many cultures struggled to adapt, even when their very existences were threatened by superior, trouser-clad horseback riders.
Turchin details how the Romans eventually adopted braccae (known to you now as breeches) and documents the troubles a 3rd-century BC Chinese statesman, King Wuling, had getting his warriors to switch to pants from the traditional robes. “It is not that I have any doubt concerning the dress of the Hu,” Wuling told an advisor. “I am afraid that everybody will laugh at me.” Eventually, a different state, the Qin, conquered and unified China. They just so happened to be closest to the mounted barbarians and thus were early to the whole cavalry-and-pants thing.
Turchin speculates that because mounted warriors were generally men of relatively high status, the culture of pants could spread easily throughout male society.
I’d add one more example from history: the rise of the rational dress movement in conjunction with the widespread availability of the bicycle. Here’s a University of Virginia gloss:
The advent and the ensuing popularity of the safety bicycle, with its appeal to both sexes mandated that women cast off their corsets and figure out some way around their long, billowy skirts. The answer to the skirt question was to be found in the form of bloomers, which were little more than very baggy trousers, cinched at the knee. Bloomers provoked wrath in conservatives and delight in women cyclists, and the garment was to become the centerpiece of the “rational dress” movement that sprung up at the end of the 19th century.
What all these examples suggest is that technological systems — cavalry, bicycling — sometimes require massive alterations in a society’s culture before they can truly become functional. And once it’s locked in, the cultural solution (pants) to an era’s big problem can be more durable than the activity (horse-mounted combat) that prompted it.