By Adam Abrams/JNS.org — A newly published study may lend unprecedented insights into the wardrobe of Israel’s ancient kings.
The study — headed by Tel Aviv University’s Dr. Erez Ben-Yosef and Dr. Naama Sukenik of the Israel Antiquities Authority, in collaboration with Bar-Ilan University — uncovered textiles colored with ancient plant dyes in Israel’s southern Timna Valley. The textiles were used during the time of Kings David and Solomon.
“If we want to know what these kings wore, the only hints are in these textiles discovered in Timna,” Ben-Yosef told JNS.org.
The findings in the Timna Valley are the earliest evidence of advanced plant-based dyeing technology used in Israel and indicate that a complex biblical society, with an advanced ruling elite, dwelled in the valley some 3,000 years ago — contradicting previous understandings that a simple society dwelled in the area. The study was published last week in the PLOS ONE journal.
The excavations began in 2013 and recovered dozens of pieces of 3,000-year-old textiles, which were well-preserved due to the extremely arid climate in Israel’s southern desert region.
“I think it should be emphasized that Timna is a very unique case,” Ben-Yosef said. “Even in the desert region of Israel, the preservation of organic materials there is unique. Other sites in the Negev like Avdat and Mitzpe Ramon are still not dry enough for this kind of preservation.”
He added, “Timna is almost the only place where researchers find organic remains — including textiles, leather, animal skin and thousands of seeds for all of the seven plant species of the Holy Land.”
Due to the unique conditions in the Timna Valley, the researchers were able to study the remains in laboratories and acquire additional insights regarding the findings. Materials used to weave the textiles included wool, linen and goat hair, and range from “coarse and rough tent remains to very simple clothing,” Ben-Yosef said.
Some of the textiles, which date back to the early Iron Age (12th-10th centuries B.C.), are adorned with a red-and-blue band pattern. Two types of Mediterranean plants were used to create this coloration using “a very sophisticated and complex dyeing technology,” Ben-Yosef said.
The specially colored textile is the earliest evidence of such dyeing technology in the entire Levant region. Previous samples of dyed textiles had been discovered, but they were dyed using simple techniques that were not resistant to washing, such as smearing pigments on cloth.
“They took these plants, which were actually cultivated especially for this industry, and cooked them in water,” Ben-Yosef said. “They added some chemicals to this mixture and then put the fleece into the water and boiled it, sometimes for several days, until there was a chemical bond between the dyestuff of the plants and the wool.”
This process resulted in the fibers being dyed with “something that is very strong and resistant to washing,” because the dyes are bonded with the wool itself. The strength of the chemical bond enabled the bright colors of the 3,000-year-old samples to be well-preserved.
Further, Ben-Yosef said the findings “are part of the very interesting question about King Solomon’s mines — which were operated in the 10th century [B.C.] during the time of the united Israelite monarchy — and if Jerusalem really had control of the southern part of the country and the copper mines in the area. This new evidence shows a connection between the area of Jerusalem and the south.”
Researchers deduced from the textile discovery that the elites who operated the furnaces in the mines had advanced knowledge about how to turn stone into copper, and “were part of a complex society with a ruling class who wore very fine clothing during the time of Solomon and David,” Ben-Yosef said.
The fact that inhabitants of the desert-based Timna Valley had access to these fabrics and dyeing technology proves they had connections to other regions, including Judea and the areas around Jerusalem, during the biblical reign of Kings David and Solomon.
“The bible states that, at the time, the region (Timna and the rest of southern Israel) was part of the Kingdom of Edom, but it was controlled by Jerusalem,” said Ben-Yosef. “So now we can see physical evidence of connections between this region of Edom, far in the south, to the area around Jerusalem, through the trading of textiles for copper between the two regions.”