‘Royal Purple’ Fabric Dating to Time of King David Discovered in Israel

JERUSALEM — Remnants of purple-dyed fabric dating to the time of King David have been discovered in the Timna Valley in Israel.

According to reports, researchers found “remnants of woven fabric, a tassel and fibers of wool dyed with royal purple,” the first of which, using radiocarbon dating, have been found to be dated to the Iron Age, 1,000 B.C.

“Our archaeological expedition has been excavating continuously at Timna since 2013. 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,” outlined Professor Erez Ben-Yosef from Tel Aviv University’s archaeology department.

The researchers say that the purple dye is derived from three species of mollusk that are found in the nearby Mediterranean: the Banded Dye-Murex (Hexaplex trunculus), the Spiny Dye-Murex (Bolinus brandaris) and the Red-Mouthed Rock-Shell (Stramonita haemastoma).

Tests were conducted at Bar Ilan University to identify the species, based on other dyes that were reconstructed using the dye glands of mollusks.

“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,” explained Dr. Naama Sukenik with the Israel Antiquities Authority in a statement.

“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 3000 years,” she joyed.

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Sukenik also told The Jerusalem Post that the discovery helps researchers learn more about the upper class residents who once lived in Timna.

“While we cannot say who the fragments of fabrics we found belonged to, one thing is sure: if we had been able to open King David or King Salomon’s wardrobes, we would have found clothes dyed in this color,” she explained.

“It is wrong to assume that if no grand buildings and fortresses have been found, then biblical descriptions of the United Monarchy in Jerusalem must be literary fiction,” Ben-Yosef also outlined. “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.”

“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.”

In 2 Chronicles 2:7, King Solomon said, “Send me now therefore a man cunning to work in gold, and in silver, and in brass, and in iron, and in purple, and crimson, and blue, and that can skill to grave with the cunning men that are with me in Judah and in Jerusalem, whom David my father did provide.”

He also described the Proverbs 31 woman as one who “maketh herself coverings of tapestry; her clothing is silk and purple.”

Jesus similarly wore a purple robe prior to his crucifixion, as it states in John 19:5, “Then came Jesus forth, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. And Pilate saith unto them, ‘Behold the man!'”


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