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Historic Discovery Gives Glimpse into Kings’ Wardrobe 

January 29, 2021
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The three species of mollusks used to produce purple dye in antiquity.

Friday, 29 January 2021 | For the first time, rare evidence has been found of fabric dyed with royal purple dating from the time of King David and King Solomon.

While examining the colored textiles from Timna Valley—an ancient copper production district in southern Israel—in a study that has lasted several years, the researchers were surprised to find remnants of woven fabric, a tassel and fibers of wool dyed with royal purple. Direct radiocarbon dating confirms that the finds date from approximately 1000 BC, corresponding to the biblical monarchies of Kings David and Solomon in Jerusalem.

The dye, which is produced from species of mollusk found in the Mediterranean, over 300 km [186 mi] from Timna, is often mentioned in the Bible and appears in various Jewish and Christian contexts. This is the first time that purple-dyed Iron Age textiles have been found in Israel, or indeed throughout the Levant.

“This is the first piece of textile ever found from the time of David and Solomon that is dyed with the prestigious purple dye,” explains Dr. Naama Sukenik, curator of organic finds at the Israel Antiquities Authority [IAA]. “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. 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. Now, for the first time, we have direct evidence of the dyed fabrics themselves, preserved for some 3,000 years.”

Prof. Erez Ben-Yosef from Tel Aviv University’s Archaeology Department says, “As a result of the region’s extremely dry climate, we are also able to recover organic materials such as textile, cords and leather from the Iron Age, from the time of David and Solomon, providing us with a unique glimpse into life in biblical times. If we excavated for another hundred years in Jerusalem, we would not discover textiles from 3,000 years ago. The state of preservation at Timna is exceptional and it is paralleled only by that at much later sites such as Masada and the Judean Desert Caves…We found it hard to believe that we had found true purple from such an ancient period”.

According to the researchers, true purple [argaman] was produced from three species of mollusk indigenous to the Mediterranean Sea. The dye was produced from a gland located within the body of the mollusk by means of a complex chemical process that lasted several days. Today, most scholars agree that the two precious dyes, purple [argaman] and light blue, or azure [tekhelet], were produced from the purple dye mollusk under different conditions of exposure to light. These colors are often mentioned together in the ancient sources, and both have symbolic and religious significance to this day. The Temple priests, David and Solomon, and Jesus [Yeshua] are all described as having worn clothing colored with purple.

Posted on January 29, 2021

Source: (Excerpt from a press release by Israel Antiquities Authority on January 28, 2021. Time-related language has been modified to reflect our publication today. See original article at this link.)

Photo Credit: ShacharCohen, courtesy of Zohar Amar/IAA

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