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15 June 2010
Leather fashionable even in prehistoric times

Archaeologists report that leather pants made the scene some 4,200 years ago. Discovered in 2003 in the same Swiss Alps area as the 3,300 year-old Tyrolean iceman known as 'Oetzi', the frozen leather leggings reported in the current Journal of Archaeological Science emerged in 2003 from melting glaciers of the Schnidejoch ice patch (Italy), along with a bevy of artifacts, including arrows, coins, shoe straps and more, dating from 4,900 to 1,100 years ago.
     "The conversion of raw animal hides and skins into durable leathers, with enhanced stability to water, bacterial degradation, heat and abrasion, was most probably the man's oldest technology combining exploitation of animals and plants," says the study led by Jorge Spangenberg of Switzerland's University of Lausanne. "All the material recovered from Schnidejoch ice-patch comes directly from the ice border or very close to it, and were very well preserved in situ, frozen in ice and snow, under anaerobic conditions, protected from sun light, wind, dirt, silt or clay, with limited biological activity until uncovered by archaeologists. Therefore the leather material from Schnidejoch provide an unequal opportunity to perform a detailed study of the origin of the animal skin and tanning agents or chemicals used to make the prehistoric leather," says the study.
     Detailed chemical and microscopic analysis on the leather legging, some 32 inches long, reveal it was made of goatskin, and tanned using birch bark and other plants. The goat belonged to a breed now found only in Laos, suggesting today's breeds crowded out others popular in prehistory.

Source: ScienceFair (8 June 2010)

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