Why do Bedouins wear black robes in hot deserts?


Survival in hot deserts has always posed a problem for man; Moses had to solve it in order to lead the children of Israel through the wilderness of the Sinai—a formidable hot desert. It seems likely that the present inhabitants of the Sinai, the Bedouins, would have optimised their solutions for desert survival during their long tenure in this desert Yet, one may have doubts on first encountering Bedouins wearing black robes and herding black goats. We have therefore investigated whether black robes help the Bedouins to minimise solar heat loads in a hot desert. This seemed possible because experiments have shown that white hair on cattle1,2 and white feathers on pigeons3 permit greater penetration of short-wave radiation to the skin than black. In fact, more heat flowed inward through white pigeon plumage than through black when both were exposed to simulated solar radiation at wind speeds greater than 3 m s−1 (ref. 3). We report here that the amount of heat gained by a Bedouin exposed to the hot desert is the same whether he wears a black or a white robe. The additional heat absorbed by the black robe was lost before it reached the skin.

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Shkolnik, A., Taylor, C., Finch, V. et al. Why do Bedouins wear black robes in hot deserts?. Nature 283, 373–375 (1980). https://doi.org/10.1038/283373a0

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