RESEARCHERS have unearthed a 2,500-year-old 'bionic' military garment in Northwest China, a new study finds.
The armor, which was buried along with a man, was discovered at Yanghai cemetery — an archaeological site near the city of Turfan that sits close to the Taklamakan Desert.
The man is believed to have died at around 30 years of age and was also found buried with pottery, two horse-cheek pieces, and the skull of a sheep.
The garment was made using 5,444 small cowhide leather scales and 140 larger scales that were "arranged in horizontal rows and connected by leather laces passing through the incisions," study co-researcher Mayke Wagner said.
Because the design resembled the scales of a fish, researchers called it an early example of "bionics," which is when humans take inspiration for human technology from nature.
Wagner noted that it was likely designed that way to "strengthen the human skin for better defense against blow, stab and shot."
The military attire, which is thought to have weighed about 11 pounds, was constructed similar to a modern-day waistcoat and was light enough to be thrown on easily without the help of a second person.
"It is a light, highly efficient one-size-fits-all defensive garment for soldiers of a mass army," said study lead researcher Patrick Wertmann, a researcher at the Institute of Asian and Oriental Studies of the University of Zurich.
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Although Wagner called the finding a "big surprise," he stated that initially, "the dusty bundle of leather pieces [in the burial] … did not arouse much attention among the archaeologists."
However, after discovering a plant thorn in the suit, the team was able to get a radiocarbon age of 786 B.C to 543 B.C for the suit, which is even earlier than the fish-like armor donned by the Persians.
"There is no other scale armor from this or an earlier period in China. In eastern China, armor fragments have been found, but of a different style," Wagner said.
Well-preserved leather scale armors from the ancient world are very rare in general and the only other garment with a known origin came from the ancient Egyptian tomb of King Tutankhamun (from the 14th century B.C).
The ancient cemetery where the Chinese armor was found was discovered by local villagers in the early 1970s.
Since 2003, archaeologists have unearthed more than 500 burials there.
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