The ancient leather armor, datable to 786-543 BCE, was originally made of about 5,444 smaller scales and 140 larger scales, which, together with leather laces and lining, had a total weight of 4-5 kg.
The nearly complete leather scale armor was found in 2013 in the tomb of a 30-year-old male at Yanghai near the modern-day city of Turfan in Northwest China.
“The Yanghai armor is an apron-shaped waistcoat covering front, groin, sides and lower back,” said Dr. Patrick Wertmann from the Institute of Asian and Oriental Studies at the University of Zurich an his colleagues.
“It can be put on quickly and without the help of another person by wrapping the left part around the back, tying it at the right hip and fastening the shoulder flaps, with thongs crosswise over the back to laces at the opposite hip parts.”
“Fitting different statures, it is a light and most economic one-size-fits-all, highly professional defensive garment.”
“The cheek pieces of a horse harness, which also were found in the tomb, indicate that the owner was a horseman.”
Accoding to the team, a total of 5,444 small and 140 big scales were originally used for the armor; together with leather laces and lining adding up to a total weight of 4-5 kg.
The scales overlap horizontally, the rows vertically, by which a regular surface pattern is created.
“The Yanghai armor was professionally produced in large numbers,” Dr. Wertmann said.
“With the increasing use of chariots in Middle Eastern warfare, a special armor for horsemen was developed in the 9th century BCE.”
“These armors later became part of the standardized equipment of military forces of the Neo-Assyrian Empire, which extended from parts of present-day Iraq to Iran, Syria, Turkey and Egypt.”
In age, construction details and esthetic appearance its closest parallel is a leather scale armor of unknown origin held by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the United States.
The stylistic correspondence but functional specifics make the two armors appear as outfits for different units of the same army: the Yanghai armur possibly for light cavalry, the MET armor perhaps for heavy infantry.
The researchers suggest that both leather scale armors were manufactured in the Neo-Assyrian Empire.
“Whether the wearer of the Yanghai armor himself was one of the foreign soldiers in Assyrian service who was outfitted with Assyrian equipment and brought it home, or he captured the armor from someone else who was there, is a matter of speculation,” they said.
“Without the survival of even one actual complete scale armor from an Assyrian context, the available evidence (i.e. in particular representations on stone reliefs) is not enough to make a definitive judgment on the precise origin of the scale armor from Yanghai.”
“What it does establish, however, is that the Yanghai armor is one of the rare actual proofs of West-East technology transfer across the Eurasian continent during the early first millennium BCE when social and economic transformation accelerated.”
The team’s paper was published in the journal Quaternary International.
Patrick Wertmann et al. No borders for innovations: A ca. 2700-year-old Assyrian-style leather scale armour in Northwest China. Quaternary International, published online November 20, 2021; doi: 10.1016/j.quaint.2021.11.014