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Rare Fabrics Found Near Dead Sea

April 2, 2014
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Thousands of pieces of fabric dating to the Roman period have been discovered in the Judean Desert. So far only two were colored with dye extracted from the murex snail. Now, a study conducted by Dr. Na‘ama Sukenik of the Israel Antiquities Authority, has exposed three other rare fabrics.

These prestigious textiles, from the Wadi Murabba‘at caves located south of Qumran, were revealed in a study that analyzed the dye of 180 textile specimens. Among the many textiles, most of which were dyed using substances derived from plants, were two purple-Bordeaux colored textiles—parts of tunics that were double dyed utilizing two of the most expensive materials in antiquity: Murex trunculus (Hexaplex trunculus) and American Cochineal insect.

A third textile, made of wool, indicates the thread fibers were dyed by exposing them to sunlight or heated after having been dyed. It is possible that the item in question is an indigo fabric made by means of a technique similar to making the tekhelet (blue) in a tzitzit. The importance of this fabric is extremely significant as there are practically no parallels for it in the archaeological record.

Of all of the dyes, purple is considered the most prestigious color, and there were times when the masses were forbidden from dressing in purple clothing which was reserved for the emperor and his family. These measures only served to increase the popularity of that color, the price of which soared and was equal to that of gold.

It is difficult to know for certain how such prestigious fabrics came to be in the Murabba‘at caves. They might have belonged to Jewish refugees from the time of the Bar-Kokhba revolt and demonstrate their economic prosperity prior to the outbreak of the uprising. Another possibility is that they were the possessions of a small Roman unit which was stationed in the caves following the Bar Kokhba revolt.

Source: Excerpts of press release by the Israel Antiquities Authority

Photo Credit: Ashernet/IAA

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