ISRAEL – Antiquity experts in Israel recently announced the discovery of 2,000-year-old dyed fabrics—an extremely rare find that supports a biblical reference in the book of Acts.
In a statement released late last month, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) announced the discovery of extremely rare dyes found in ancient fabric fragments. The fabrics were initially discovered in Judean Desert caves located south of Qumran, which is where the famous Dead Sea Scrolls were found in the mid-1900s.
Experts say that while many dyed fabrics were collected from the caves, three fragments are of particular importance.
“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,” the IAA statement explains.
“A third textile, made of wool, indicating the thread fibers were dyed by exposing them to sunlight or heated after having been dyed, represent another use of the murex snail for achieving a shade of blue, and 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 statement adds.
Antiquities experts were thrilled by the rare and virtually unprecedented discovery of the valuable dyes. The IAA statement described the finding as “extremely significant,” saying “there are practically no parallels for it in the archaeological record.”
According to the IAA’s report, blue and purple fabrics were exceptionally valuable during the Roman era, with prices equal to that of gold. As a result, ownership of dyed fabrics was usually correlated with abundant wealth and social prestige.
In the Bible, Acts 16 details the conversion of Lydia, who is described as “a seller of purple.” Bible scholars state that she most likely sold dyed fabrics similar to the ones discovered in Israel, meaning that she was probably wealthy. Nevertheless, she invited the Apostle Paul into her home and was baptized.
Baruch Sterman, a world expert on dyed cloth, said the recent discovery of the rare fabrics is exciting.
“I think this is a fascinating finding,” he said, according to Haaretz. “Here we have evidence that in Israel, in the second century, they had the technology to dye blue using murex, and there was an entire industry in Israel that had all this advanced technology.”
Sterman said that the chances of finding such rare dyed fragments are “miniscule.”
“This was an industry that was lost 1,300 years ago, so if we’re going to find any remnants, they have to be at least 1,300-1,500 years old,” he stated. “The chances of finding them are miniscule.”
However, Sterman added, the climate of the Dead Sea region is conducive to preserving ancient relics.
“Because the climate is so dry by the Dead Sea and because of the chemicals in the air there,” he explained, “you can find things older there than in other places.”