Israel discovers royal purple cloth from King David’s era

“The wealth of a nomadic society was not measured in palaces and monuments made of stone, but in things that were no less valued in the ancient world,” said Prof. Erez Ben-Yosef.

By Josh Plank, World Israel News

Researchers from the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), Tel Aviv University, and Bar-Ilan University have discovered 3,000-year-old remnants of purple fabric amazingly preserved in the desert climate of the Timna Valley, an ancient copper production district in southern Israel, the IAA announced last week.

This is the first time that purple-dyed textiles from the Iron Age have been found in Israel, though mollusk-shell waste and potsherds with patches of dye have provided evidence of the ancient dye industry.

“Now, for the first time, we have direct evidence of the dyed fabrics themselves, preserved for some 3,000 years,” said Dr. Naama Sukenik, curator of organic finds at the IAA.

The purple dye was associated with the nobility, priests, and royalty in ancient times and is often mentioned in the Bible.

“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.

According to Prof. Erez Ben-Yosef of Tel Aviv University, the dramatic finds should revolutionize our concepts of nomadic societies in the Iron Age.

Ben-Yosef identifies the copper-production center at Timna as part of the biblical kingdom of Edom, which lay to the south of the kingdom of Israel.

“The Edomite kingdom was a kingdom of nomads,” he said, noting the lack of evidence of any permanent settlements in the Edomite territory.

“Our new research at Timna has showed us that even without such buildings, there were kings in our region who ruled over complex societies, formed alliances and trade relations, and waged war on each other,” Ben-Yosef said.

“The wealth of a nomadic society was not measured in palaces and monuments made of stone, but in things that were no less valued in the ancient world – such as the copper produced at Timna and the purple dye that was traded with its copper smelters,” he said.

Ben-Yosef suggested that the findings may inform our understanding of the existence of the mighty kingdom of Israel during the reigns of David and Solomon.

“It is wrong to assume that if no grand buildings and fortresses have been found, then biblical descriptions of the United Kingdom in Jerusalem must be literary fiction,” he said.