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Scientists unearth 3,000 year-old purple fabrics that allow you to imagine the wardrobe of biblical kings

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In the time of King David and King Solomon, who lived 1,000 years before Jesus, the “argaman” royal purple dye (Tyrian purple) was “more valuable than gold.” They are the oldest dyed fabrics found in Israel

At an enclave known as Slave Hill in Timna valley, remnants of purple cloth have been found. Researchers have dated them to about 3,000 years, which would coincide with the reign of the mythical David and Solomon. In the area, where copper was extracted, no palaces have been found, but this particular fabric tells us about an authentic kingdom with a very differentiated hierarchy.

“King Solomon made his own chariot; he built it of wood from Lebanon. He has made its posts of silver, its base of gold, its seat of purple fabric. Its interior is inlaid with love by the daughters of Jerusalem”, reads the third chapter from the Song of Solomon

But the Bible also describes Jesus wearing the same color, which was considered a status symbol of the elites in the ancient societies of the southern Levant.

The study, led by Dr Naama Sukenik, from the Israel Antiquities Authority, and Professor Erez Ben-Yosef, from the Department of Archeology at Tel Aviv University, has been published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE.

Sukenik explained in the press release that the study is important because evidence of this color, so frequently described in scripture, is almost never found, “and this is the first time that we have discovered remains of these Iron Age materials. “In addition, the discovery helps to know more about Timna, “it gives us proof that upper-class people resided there (…) We cannot know who these fabrics belonged to, but one thing is for sure: if we could have opened the king’s closets David or Solomon, we would have found clothes dyed this color,” the researcher added.


Due to the organic nature of the discovery, archaeologists were able to perform the radiocarbon dating test, which confirmed that the artifacts dated approximately 1,000 years BC., when most of the scholars believe that the kings David and Solomon lived.

The color, a brilliant shade of purple, was extracted from mollusks fished in the Mediterranean through a very expensive process. There are archaeological investigations that have discovered traces of the production, such as empty shells and bowls.

The color was produced from the glands of three sea snails, and the fact that the fabrics were transported from the Mediterranean coast to the Timna copper mines near the Red Sea, travelling hundreds of kilometers, would only add prestige and value.

“It is a very early period to find ‘royal purple’ and in a strange place,” says Erez Ben Yosef, adding that “It’s deep in the desert, where we didn’t think these prestigious materials were used.”

Stylish nomads

The discovery helps to understand the behavior of the nomadic tribes of that time, according to Ben Yosef. “At the time when the kingdoms of Israel, Edom, Moab, Amon, the local kingdoms of biblical times, were emerging.”

Ben Yosef has been excavating in Timna since 2013 and in recent times his team has concentrated their work on a place called “Slave Hill”. According to the archaeologist, the name can be misleading, since it was the place where the very skilled metal workers of Timna worked, and they had nothing to do with slaves. Timna was a major copper hub, the Iron Age equivalent of our current oil.

“Slave Hill” is the largest copper smelting site in the valley and is littered with heaps of industrial waste, just like smelting furnaces. In one of these piles, we saw three pieces of colored cloth. The color caught our attention immediately, but it was hard for us to believe that we had found the ‘true purple’ from such an ancient period,” explained the archaeologist.

The teacher believes that Timna was part of the Biblical kingdom of Edom.

“The Edomite kingdom was a nomadic kingdom in the early Iron Age,” he noted, adding that discovering evidence that a nomadic kingdom in the time of King David could constitute a stratified and wealthy society can also have important implications for the understanding of what was happening in Jerusalem and in support of the biblical narrative,” said Ben Yosef.

“We know that the tribes of Israel were originally nomadic and the settlement process was gradual and protracted. Archaeologists are searching for King David’s palace. However, David may not have expressed his wealth in splendid buildings, but rather more objects best suited for a nomadic heritage such as textiles and artifacts,” he noted.

The archaeologist concluded that it is wrong to assume that, if no fortresses or large buildings have been found, the Bible descriptions of a unified monarchy in Jerusalem are literary fiction.

Finding these fabrics on Slave Hill in Timna, 220 kilometers from Jerusalem, is no coincidence: copper came to represent the oil of the time and, around these mines, a real industry emerged very advanced for the time. Evidence had been found before that textile dyes existed in the Iron Age.

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