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Ancient fabric, as worn by kings, found in Israel

05 February 2021

ISRAEL ANTIQUITIES AUTHORITY

FRAGMENTS of an ancient fabric such as might have been worn by King David and his son Solomon have been discovered in southern Israel.

The material is dyed purple, a colour associated with royalty because it was derived from snail shells in a complex process that made it worth more than gold. The Bible records David as wearing purple robes. Carbon dating of the woven fabric, a tassel, and loose fibres placed their creation to about 1000 BC. King David is believed to have reigned from 1010 to 970 BC, and his son Solomon from 970 to 931 BC.

The find was made in the Timna Valley, at a site, Slaves’ Hill, about 20 miles north of the Red Sea port of Eilat. The valley is renown for copper mines dating from the fifth millennium BC, and was dubbed “King Solomon’s Mines” during early excavations in the 1930s.

The material was discovered by a team from the Israel Antiquities Authority, and the universities of Tel Aviv and Bar Ilan. A curator of organic materials at the Antiquities Authority, Dr Naama Sukenik, said: “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 molluscs, all made it the most highly valued of the dyes.”

ISRAEL ANTIQUITIES AUTHORITYISRAEL ANTIQUITIES AUTHORITY

An archaeologist at Tel Aviv University, Professor Erez Ben-Yosef, who has worked in the Timna Valley for many years, said that the find suggested a sophisticated and socially stratified society, although its people were nomadic. “When we think of nomads, it is difficult for us to free ourselves from comparisons with contemporary Bedouins, and we therefore find it hard to imagine kings without magnificent stone palaces and walled cities,” he said.

“Yet, in certain circumstances, nomads can also create a complex socio-political structure: one that the biblical writers could identify as a kingdom. Archaeologists are looking for King David’s palace; however, David may not have expressed his wealth in splendid buildings, but with objects more suited to a nomadic heritage, such as textiles and artefacts.”

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