Ancient cloth fragments reveal 3,000-year old blue and red dyes

Fragments of brightly striped wool fabric from the time of Kings David and Solomon, discovered at the ancient Timna mines near Eilat, yield secrets of fabric dyes from the 12th to the 10th centuries BCE. The bright red and blue striped fragments were preserved thanks to the extremely arid climate of the region, said Dr. Naama Sukenik of the Israeli Antiquities Authority and Dr. Erez Ben-Yosef of Tel Aviv University, who led the Timna dig. The dyes used on these oldest colored textiles to be found in the Middle East outside Egypt, were identified by high-pressure liquid chromatography as deriving from two plants: madder roots for the red dye and indigotin from the woad plant for the blue. Those plants were especially cultivated for the purpose. Incidentally, woad also has a long history in ancient Britain, where notably Boudicca and the Iceni tribe used woad to paint their faces before going into battle.

 

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