Remnants of royal purple-dyed fabric dyed dating back some 3,000 years were recently unearthed in southern Israel.
The discovery by researchers from Tel Aviv University took place in the extremely dry climate of the arid Timna Valley in the Arava Desert, near the basin of the Dead Sea. Their findings, published in the PLOS ONE journal in January, marked the first time Iron Age textiles containing purple dye were found in the country.
The cloths from approximately 1000 B.C. correspond with the biblical monarchies of Kings David and Solomon.
“Until the current discovery, we had only encountered mollusk-shell waste and potsherds with patches of dye, which provided evidence of the purple industry in the Iron Age,” said Naama Sukenik, curator of organic finds at the Israel Antiquities Authority, in a statement. “Now, for the first time, we have direct evidence of the dyed fabrics themselves, preserved for some 3,000 years.”
True purple dye was produced in antiquity from three species of mollusk indigenous to the Mediterranean Sea: the banded dye-murex, the spiny dye-murex and the red-mouthed rock-shell. These helped make two precious dyes, purple and azure, depending on the mollusk’s exposure to light.
Both colors were mentioned often in ancient texts, with Hebrew kings, Temple priests and Jesus Christ having all been described as wearing purple clothing.
“In antiquity, purple attire was associated with the nobility, with priests, and of course with royalty. The gorgeous shade of the purple, the fact that it does not fade, and the difficulty in producing the dye, which is found in minute quantities in the body of mollusks, all made it the most highly valued of the dyes, which often cost more than gold,” Sukenik said.
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(Edited by Carlin Becker and David Martosko)