Rare evidence of fabric dyed with royal purple dating from the time of King David and King Solomon has been discovered in southern Israel.
Scientists have used radiocarbon dating on woven fabric, a tassel and fibres of wool dyed with royal purple found at an archaeological dig in the Timna Valley, a site once used to produce copper.
They found that the samples were around 3,000 years of age, and that the dye came from a Mediterranean mollusc almost 200 miles away.
Although the royal purple is mentioned in the Bible, and appears in Jewish and Christian contexts, this is the first time that purple-dyed Iron Age textiles have been found in Israel.
“This is a very exciting and important discovery,” said Dr Naama Sukenik, curator of organic finds at the Israel Antiquities Authority.
“This is the first piece of textile ever found from the time of David and Solomon that is dyed with the prestigious purple dye. 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 molluscs, all made it the most highly-valued of the dyes, which often cost more than gold.
“Until the current discovery, we had only encountered mollusc-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.”
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