Category Archives: ISRAEL

Archaeologists Discover Additional Dead Sea Scroll Fragments In Desert Caves

Archaeologists Discover Additional Dead Sea Scroll Fragments In Desert Caves

Archaeologists in Israel have found new fragments of a Dead Sea Scroll for the first time in 60 years. The parchment fragments, which number in the hundreds, were most likely buried in a desert cave between 132 and 136 A.D., during the unsuccessful Bar Kokhba rebellion against the Romans.

Archaeologists Discover Additional Dead Sea Scroll Fragments In Desert Caves
Part of the Twelve Minor Prophets scroll, written in Greek.

The 80 or so fragments are inscribed with Greek translations of verse from the biblical books of Zechariah and Nahum, according to Ilan Ben Zion of the Associated Press (AP).

Researchers with the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) found the nearly 2,000-year-old scrolls in the Cave of Horror, a site in the Judean Desert that derives its name from the 40 skeletons discovered there during excavations in the 1960s.

The Dead Sea Scrolls, a collection of Jewish manuscripts penned between the third century B.C. and the first century A.D., include the oldest known fragments of the Hebrew Bible. Modern researchers first learned of the texts’ existence in the 1940s, when local Bedouin shepherds happened upon a set of the scrolls in the Qumran Caves.

According to Haaretz’s Ruth Schuster and Ariel David, the newly discovered bits of parchment appear to be missing sections of a scroll found in the Cave of Horror in 1952. Like the fragments, that scroll bears lines from the Twelve, a book of the Hebrew Bible that contains the writings of 12 minor prophets.

Archaeologists found the scroll fragments at a site known as the Cave of Horror.

Aside from the name of God, which appears in Hebrew, the new scroll fragments are written entirely in Greek. Scholars say the find sheds light on the evolution of biblical texts from their earliest forms.

“When we think about the biblical text, we think about something very static. It wasn’t static. There are slight differences and some of those differences are important,” Joe Uziel, head of the IAA’s Dead Sea Scrolls unit, tells the AP. “Every little piece of information that we can add, we can understand a little bit better.”

The discovery was part of an Israeli government project launched in 2017 to survey the caves of the Judean Desert and recover artefacts before looters could steal them. Per an IAA statement, researchers had to rappel down a sheer cliff to reach the Cave of Horror, which is surrounded by gorges and located some 260 feet below a clifftop.

“The desert team showed exceptional courage, dedication and devotion to purpose, rappelling down to caves located between heaven and earth, digging and sifting through them, enduring thick and suffocating dust, and returning with gifts of immeasurable worth for mankind,” says IAA Director Israel Hasson in the statement.

As part of the new research, archaeologists explored a number of desert caves in the area. In addition to the scroll fragments, reports Amanda Borschel-Dan for the Times of Israel, they found an array of artefacts dating to the Bar Kokhba revolt, which saw Jewish rebels using the caves as hideouts.

Highlights of the discovery include a cache of coins bearing Jewish symbols like a harp and a date palm, arrowheads and spear tips, sandals, fabric, and lice combs.

Cache of coins from the period of the Bar Kokhba revolt against Rome.
Cache of coins from the period of the Bar Kokhba revolt against Rome.
An archaeologist at the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) shows ancient lice comb from the Bar Kochba Jewish revolt period, excavated from an area in the Judean Desert, after conservation work is done at the IAA’s Dead Sea conservation laboratory in Jerusalem, March 16, 2021.

The team found far older items, too. Youth volunteers participating in the exploration of one of the Muraba’at Caves, for instance, discovered a huge, 24- to 26-gallon basket made 10,500 years ago. As Ella Tercatin writes for the Jerusalem Post, experts think the woven vessel is the oldest of its kind found to date.

Researchers working in the Cave of Horrors also found the 6,000-year-old remains of a child whose body was naturally mummified in the dry cave. Based on a CT scan, they estimate that the individual, likely a girl, was between 6 and 12 years old. They were buried in the fetal position in a shallow pit, with cloth tucked around their body.

“It was obvious that whoever buried the child had wrapped [them] up and pushed the edges of the cloth beneath [them], just as a parent covers [their] child in a blanket,” says IAA prehistorian Ronit Lupu in the statement. “A small bundle of cloth was clutched in the child’s hands.”

Most of the Dead Sea Scrolls, discovered in caves along the coast of the Dead Sea in what’s now Israel and the West Bank, date to between the second century B.C. and second century A.D. Per the Leon Levy Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Library, the scrolls have helped scholars understand different Jewish sects that were active during that period.

As Andrew Lawler reported for Smithsonian magazine in 2010, researchers found around 15,000 scroll fragments between the late 1940s and early 1960s.

Some of the scrolls include texts that are remarkably similar to later versions of biblical books, but with some subtle differences and additional material. Others set out regulations, forming the basis for legal commentaries in the Talmud.

Hasson says that the discoveries point to the importance of putting resources into a continued exploration of the caves.

“We must ensure that we recover all the data that has not yet been discovered in the caves before the robbers do,” he adds in the statement. “Some things are beyond value.”

Oldest woven basket in the world found in Israel dates back 10,000 years

Oldest woven basket in the world found in Israel dates back 10,000 years

Archaeologists in Israel have discovered several 2,000-year-old biblical scroll fragments, a 6,000-year-old skeleton, ancient coins and what is thought to be the world’s oldest woven basket in a cave, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) announced Tuesday.

The basket was found empty and closed with a lid. Only a small amount of soil was retrieved in it and the researchers hope it will help identify what the vessel contained.

A perfectly preserved large woven basket dating back some 10,500 years was unearthed in the Judean Desert, the Antiquities Authority announced Tuesday.

The 10,500-year-old basket as found in Muraba‘at Cave.

Experts believe the artefact is probably the oldest of its kind ever uncovered. It was excavated in a Judean Desert cave by the IAA in cooperation with the Civil Administration’s Archaeology Department.
“This is the most exciting discovery that I have encountered in my life,” Dr Haim Cohen said during a press briefing at the IAA lab in Jerusalem.

Materials from four different parts of the basket were analyzed to date. The researchers concluded that the object was manufactured around 10,500 years ago during the Pre-Pottery Neolithic period.

“The basket has a capacity of some 92 litres,” Cohen said. “We do not know yet which type of plant was used to make it, but we are looking into it. However, we can already say that two people wove it and that one of them was left-handed.”

The basket was found empty and closed with a lid. Only a small amount of soil was retrieved in it, and the researchers hope it will help identify what the vessel contained.

According to Cohen, the ancient people who manufactured it probably did not live in the cave but rather used it for storage.

The archaeologists found evidence that antiquities looters had probably arrived some 10 km. from the artefact, but they stopped excavating just before reaching it.

The rescue operation aims at surveying hundreds of caves in the Judean Desert to trace and preserve the antiquities that are still hidden there before they are retrieved and sold on the private market, as has happened in the past.

“Organic materials usually do not have the ability to survive for such long periods,” Dr Naama Sukenik from the IAA’s Organic Material Department told The Jerusalem Post. “However, the special climatic condition of the Judean Desert, its dry weather, have allowed for dozens of artefacts to last for centuries and millennia.”

Among other items, the archaeologists have found fragments of textiles still carrying their bright colours dating back to the Roman period, parts of sandals, a small comb with 2,000-year-old lice stuck between its teeth, seeds and pieces of rope.

Dozens of scroll fragments from a biblical scroll dating back some 2,000 years were also unearthed in the first discovery of its kind in decades.

About half of the area still remains to be surveyed and shed further light into life in Israel over the course of millennia.

Sunken treasure? Divers stumble upon a priceless ancient gold

Sunken treasure? Divers stumble upon a priceless ancient gold

The biggest cache of gold coins ever uncovered off Israel’s Mediterranean coast has been discovered by scuba diving, with around 2,000 pieces dating back over 1,000 years, according to the country’s antiquities authority.

A scuba diver holds some of the gold coins recently found on the seabed in the ancient harbour in the Israeli town of Caesarea.

“The largest treasure of gold coins discovered in Israel was found on the seabed in the ancient harbour in Caesarea,” the authority said in a statement.

It was by pure chance that members of a diving club in the Roman-era port had come across the coins, which the authority said weighed 9kg but described as “priceless”.

The largest hoard of gold coins found in Israel was discovered in the seabed of a harbour in the Mediterranean Sea port of Caesarea National Park.

“At first they thought they had spotted a toy coin from a game and it was only after they understood the coin was the real thing that they collected several coins and quickly returned to the shore in order to inform the director of the dive club about their find,” it said.

Experts from the authority called to the site uncovered “almost 2,000 gold coins in different denominations” circulated by the Fatimid Caliphate, which ruled much of the Middle East and North Africa from 909 to 1171.

Kobi Sharvit, director of the marine archaeology unit at the Israel Antiquities Authority, said excavations would be carried out in the hope of shedding more light on the origin of the treasure.

“There is probably a shipwreck there of an official treasury boat which was on its way to the central government in Egypt with taxes that had been collected,” said Sharvit.

“Perhaps the treasure of coins was meant to pay the salaries of the Fatimid military garrison which was stationed in Caesarea and protected the city.

“Another theory is that the treasure was money belonging to a large merchant ship that traded with the coastal cities and the port on the Mediterranean Sea and sank there,” he said.

The Israeli Antiquities Authority declined to put a cash value on the coins, which it said had been exposed as a result of winter storms.

The find was “so valuable that its priceless,” spokeswoman Yoli Schwartz said, adding the haul was now the property of the state, and that there was no finder’s fee.

Byzantine-Period Mosaic Map of Ancient Egyptian City Uncovered in Israel

Byzantine-Period Mosaic Map of Ancient Egyptian City Uncovered in Israel

A mosaic map of an ancient Egyptian settlement is going on display where it was found — in an industrial-park parking lot in Israel.

Byzantine-Period Mosaic Map of Ancient Egyptian City Uncovered in Israel
A 1,500-year-old church mosaic shows a maplike cityscape of Chortaso, Egypt, where early Christian tradition suggests the minor Hebrew prophet Habakkuk was buried.

The Israel Antiquities Authority announced the first public display of the elaborate mosaic, which was discovered two years ago.

Dating back to the Byzantine period, the mosaic shows streets and buildings arranged like a map. A Greek inscription reveals that the map shows Chortaso, Egypt, the site of the burial of Habakkuk, a prophet in the Hebrew Bible.

This mosaic graced a church floor some 1,500 years ago, archaeologists said in a statement. Today, it sits in the midst of an industrial park in the city of Kiryat Gat (also spelled Qiryat Gat) in Israel.

“The appearance of this Egyptian city on the floor of the public building in Qiryat Gat might allude to the origin of the church’s congregation,” Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologists Sa’ar Ganor and Rina Avner said in the statement.

1,500-year-old mosaic map of Chortaso.
A section of the 1,500-year-old mosaic. 

The church structure itself is long gone, but the floor mosaic remained. With funding from the company that manages the industrial park where it was discovered, archaeologists carefully excavated and removed the mosaic for conservation two years ago.

Now, they have returned the ancient artwork to its original place. It will open for public display during a “Factories from Within” festival at the industrial park.

The mosaic is made of 17 different colours of tile. It depicts birds, a rooster and a deer in one surviving fragment, as well as a goblet filled with red fruit.

The Byzantine mosaic also shows birds, animals and red fruit in a goblet.

The second fragment shows the Egyptian settlement, complete with roads, buildings and a boat with a sail. Each building is two or three stories tall and carefully detailed; galleries, balconies, windows and even roof tiles are depicted.

“The investment in the raw materials and their quality is the best ever discovered in Israel,” the archaeologists wrote.

Though Christian tradition places Habakkuk’s resting place in Chortaso, the final burial place of this minor prophet is unknown — both Israel and Iran now claim sites said to be the prophet’s tomb.

The Byzantine period of Israel, however, was a time of elaborate church construction. Intricate floor mosaics are often part of the designs of these houses of worship.

The Byzantine Empire stretched from the “toe” of the boot of Italy through modern-day Greece and Turkey and down into today’s Syria, Lebanon and Israel. It flourished from the collapse of the western half of the Roman Empire (often estimated to be around A.D. 476) until 1453.

Atlit Yam’s: A  9,000-Year-Old Underground Megalithic Settlement

Atlit Yam’s: A  9,000-Year-Old Underground Megalithic Settlement

There really is no limit to the number of archaeological wonders in Israel, virtually anywhere you look there is something wonderful to discover. But, hidden beneath the water, there is also an entire world, which has been overtaken by nature, silently existing next to the observable land sites, that wants to tell us the story of prehistoric Israel.

Invisible by rising sea levels, Israel’s shores are littered with submerged structures and sunken settlements that have been lost underwater over thousands of years. Below the waves, you’ll discover a domain where plants and animals were domesticated and the shift from a hunting and gathering economy to farming was made.

Along Haifa’s coast are the remnants of a Neolithic fishing village that drowned 9,000 years ago by the rising water level. Today, the exceptionally well preserved 40,000 m² site is located approximately 200-400 m offshore on the north bay of Atlit, at a depth of 8-11 m below modern sea level. Atlit Yam is one of the best-preserved submerged prehistoric settlements in the world. It was discovered and studied during the 1980s and 1990s, while excavations and surveys were carried out in the years 1985-2000.

Atlit Yam's: A 9,000-Year-Old Underground Megalithic Settlement
Atlit Yam is an ancient submerged Neolithic village off the coast of Atlit, Israel

A wealth of material culture has been uncovered which gives us insight into how people had to cope with a radically changing world and where new technologies were introduced. Sea- level rise forced the inhabitants of this Pre-Pottery Neolithic village to abandon the settlement and relocate multiple times to higher grounds.

It was here that the earliest known constructed fresh-water wells (with stone walls) were discovered. At the centre of the settlement, seven megaliths are arranged in a semicircle around a freshwater spring.

A diver explores a well at the site of Atlit Yam, an ancient submerged Neolithic village off the coast of Atlit, Israel.

The inhabitants lived on what we now call a traditional Mediterranean diet. Remains of about 100 different plants, which were cultivated and/or collected from the wild, were recovered as well as bones of fish, domestic and wild animals.

The village’s subsistence was based on a mixed economy of agriculture with animal husbandry supplemented by hunting, gathering and fishing. Possibly this well- balanced diet contributed to the relatively good health and longevity of the inhabitants. A substantial part of the population reached the exceptional age of 50 years old.

Sites from this period with published human remains are few, but Atlit Yam yielded a significant number of human burials, which help us in our attempt to understand this vanished society. Through the remains, we have learned that the population had to cope with diseases such as tuberculosis and malaria and some skeletons had a specific ear pathology symptomatic of diving in cold water.

The discovery of the earliest known cases of human tuberculosis (TB) in the bones of a mother and baby, showed that the disease is 3,000 years older than previously thought. This discovery sheds light on how the TB bacterium has evolved over the millennia and increases our understanding of how it may change.

Scientists might be able to develop more effective treatments in the future thanks to this discovery. The examination of this ancient DNA confirms the latest theory that bovine TB evolved later than human TB. In contrast to the original theory that human TB evolved from bovine TB after animal domestication.

The inhabitants were buried, placed in a flexed position on their sides or backs, sometimes in group graves.

Many shore communities face inundation in the coming decades caused by global warming. Sea level rise is usually cast as a doomsday scenario that will play out into the future, but Atlit Yam sends us a strong warning from the past. They were already battling chronic flooding 9,000 years ago.

It’s not that we expect sea levels to rise, they are already rising. Chronic flooding can only be avoided by adaptation measures, like seawalls, levees, dams, flood controls or as in the case of Atlit Yam, by moving away.

Millions of people would be displaced and the costs of protecting modern-day cities from rising sea levels would also likely rise. We are not doing enough to save hundreds of millions of people from a miserable future.

Climate change is inevitable, and we must establish what might happen and how much financial damage that would cause. Studies indicate that many coastal settlements around the world will be partially submerged by 2070 if nothing is done. We must take it seriously and learn the lessons from the past. The rising sea not only floods the coastal regions but also cause underground water salinization, flooded sewages, accelerated coastal destruction, and other damage.

People have moved throughout history, and for many reasons. Some were forced to move due to conflict, persecution, flooding or disasters such as drought influenced famine.  It is important to understand that not all climate-related hazards can be attributed to climate change and it is here that Atlit Yam can provide important data to make those distinctions.

Traces of long-forgotten human settlements claimed by the sea thousands of years ago are being uncovered by archaeologists along the coastline of Israel. The discoveries are helping to fill in some of the blanks about Israel’s prehistory and are offering insights into how we responded to climate change in the past. Uncovering these stories could offer some clues about what our own future holds too.

Reconstruction drawing of the stone structure found at Atlit Yam.

The research was funded by the Israel Antiquities Authority, the Matla and Feival Coastal and Underwater Archaeological Foundation (MAFCAF), the Irene Levi Sala Care Archaeological Foundation, and the National Geographic Foundation.

Publications by Ehud Galili, University of Haifa; Avi Gopher and Israel Hershkovitz, Tel Aviv University; Vered Eshed, Israel Antiquities Authority. Dr Helen Donoghue and Dr Mark Spigelman, UCL Centre for Infectious Diseases & International Health, and scientists from Tel-Aviv University.

Two Roman-era Sarcophagi Unearthed in Central Israel

Two Roman-era Sarcophagi Unearthed in Central Israel

According to a statement released by The Friends of the Israel Antiquities Authority, two 1,800-year-old sarcophagi were unearthed at Ramat Gan Safari Park during construction work at its wildlife hospital. 

The new building, designed to offer sophisticated veterinarian facilities for birds and mammals, houses a specialist operation theatre and a large bird nursery that will provide quiet,  heated housing for the frequent feeds needed during the chick-rearing seasons.

During its construction, an extraordinary discovery was made last week – two unique sarcophagi, ancient stone coffins, were found in the earthworks.

roman sarcophagi

Veteran safari workers present at the time said that the coffins had been found years ago in the area of the safari’s parking lot.

At the time, the sarcophagi were moved to a location near the veterinary clinic and the African savanna zone. Still, over the years, they were forgotten and became buried under sand and thick vegetation.

When work on the new wildlife hospital began a few days ago, the contractor working in the area started digging. Suddenly, Rami Tam, head of the African savanna zone, noticed the two coffins jutting out of the soil.

He quickly called animal health and management director Shmulik Yedvab, who came to see the find and contacted Alon Klein and Uzi Rothstein at the Israel Antiquities Authority’s Theft Prevention Unit.

Hardly believing their eyes, the inspectors were astonished to see sarcophagi of this kind at the Safari Park. After a thorough examination, they excitedly confirmed the unique find’s great age.

Based on the stones and their ornate decoration, the sarcophagi were intended for high-status people who were buried near the Safari Park.

According to Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologists, the sarcophagi are roughly 1,800 years old and date from the Roman period. They are ornamented with symbolic discs – to protect and accompany the soul on its journey to the afterlife – and flower garlands, often used to decorate sarcophagi in the Hellenistic period as well.

Between the garlands are oval blanks, which the archaeologists believe were originally intended to be filled with a customary grape-cluster motif, but for some unknown reason, the work remained unfinished.

The sarcophagi, made of local stone – probably from the Judean Hills or Samaria – are locally-produced imitations of the prestigious sarcophagi made of Proconnesian marble from the Turkish island of Marmara.

Found together, the two sarcophagi bear identical ornamentation, and they may have been made for a husband and wife or for members of the same family. The exact provenance of the sarcophagi is unknown.

Still, they were probably buried near the Safari Park, in the region of Messubim – the site of ancient Bnei Brak in the Roman period, known to us from the Passover Haggadah.

The wealthy owners of the sarcophagi, buried with their grave goods, had no idea that the coffins would find a place of honour alongside giraffes, elephants, and a bird nursery. On Tuesday of this week, the sarcophagi were transferred to their rightful location in the Israeli National Treasures repositories.

Archaeologists Find Remains of ‘Rare’, Ancient Mosque from 670 AD in Israeli City of Tiberias

Archaeologists Find Remains of ‘Rare’, Ancient Mosque from 670 AD in Israeli City of Tiberias

Archaeologists in Israel say they have discovered the remnants of an early mosque — believed to date to the earliest decades of Islam — during an excavation in the northern city of Tiberias.

This mosque’s foundations, excavated just south of the Sea of Galilee by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, point to its construction roughly a generation after the death of the Prophet Mohammad, making it one of the earliest Muslim houses of worship to be studied by archaeologists.

“We know about many early mosques that were founded right in the beginning of the Islamic period,” said Katia Cytryn-Silverman, a specialist in Islamic archaeology at Hebrew University who heads the dig. Other mosques dating from around the same time, such as the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina, the Great Mosque of Damascus, and Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque, are still in use today and cannot be tampered with by archaeologists.

Cytryn-Silverman said that excavating the Tiberian mosque allows a rare chance to study the architecture of Muslim prayer houses in their infancy and indicates a tolerance for other faiths by early Islamic leaders. She announced the findings this month at a virtual conference.

When the mosque was built around 670 AD, Tiberias had been a Muslim-ruled city for a few decades. Named after Rome’s second emperor around 20 AD, the city was a major center of Jewish life and scholarship for nearly five centuries. Before its conquest by Muslim armies in 635, the Byzantine city was home to one of a constellation of Christian holy sites dotting the Sea of Galilee’s shoreline.

Archaeologists Find Remains of 'Rare', Ancient Mosque from 670 AD in Israeli City of Tiberias
This 2014 aerial photo shows the site of the Al-Juma (Friday) Mosque in Tiberias, northern Israel.

Under Muslim rule, Tiberias became a provincial capital in the early Islamic empire and grew in prominence. Early caliphs built palaces on its outskirts along the lakeshore. But until recently, little was known about the city’s early Muslim past.

Gideon Avni, the chief archaeologist with the Israel Antiquities Authority, who was not involved in the excavation, said the discovery helps resolve a scholarly debate about when mosques began standardizing their design, facing toward Mecca.

“In the archaeological finds, it was very rare to find early mosques,” he said.

Archaeological digs around Tiberias have proceeded in fits and starts for the past century. In recent decades the ancient city has started yielding other monumental buildings from its past, including a sizeable Roman theater overlooking the water and a Byzantine church.

Since early last year, the coronavirus pandemic halted excavations and lush Galilean grasses, herbs, and weeds have grown over the ruins. Hebrew University and its partners, the German Protestant Institute of Archaeology, plan to restart the dig in February.

Initial excavations of the site in the 1950s led scholars to believe that the building was a Byzantine marketplace later used as a mosque.

But Cytryn-Silverman’s excavations delved deeper beneath the floor. Coins and ceramics nestled among at the base of the crudely crafted foundations helped date them to around 660-680 AD, barely a generation after the city’s capture. The building’s dimensions, pillared floor-plan, and qiblah, or prayer niche, closely paralleled other mosques from the period.

Avni said that for a long time, academics weren’t sure what happened to cities in the Levant and Mesopotamia conquered by the Muslims in the early 7th century.

“Earlier opinions said that there was a process of conquest, destruction, and devastation,” he said. Today, he said, archaeologists understand that there was a “fairly gradual process, and in Tiberias, you see that.”

The first mosque built in the newly conquered city stood cheek by jowl with the local synagogues and the Byzantine church that dominated the skyline. This earliest phase of the mosque was “more humble” than a larger, grander structure that replaced it half a century later, Cytryn-Silverman said.

“At least until the monumental mosque was erected in the 8th century, the church continued being the main building in Tiberias,” she added.

She says this supports the idea that the early Muslim rulers — who governed an overwhelmingly non-Muslim population — adopted a tolerant approach toward other faiths, allowing a “golden age” of coexistence.

“You see that the beginning of the Islamic rule here respected very much the population that was the main population of the city: Christians, Jews, Samaritans,” Cytryn-Silverman said. “They were not in a hurry to make their presence expressed into buildings. They were not destroying others’ houses of prayers, but they were actually fitting themselves into the societies that they now were the leaders of.”

Israeli archaeologists find 3,000-Year-old ‘Biblical royal purple dye’

Israeli archaeologists find 3,000-Year-old ‘Biblical royal purple dye’

In Israel, fragments of dyed thread uncovered dating back 3,000 years refer to the accounts in the Bible of the purple garments worn by royalty including King Solomon. Researchers from Israel find traces of woven fabric, a tassel,  and fibers of wool dyed in so-called ‘royal purple’ from a dig site in the Timna Valley.

The area is rich in copper ore in the country’s south and has been mined since the 5th millennium BC. It belonged to Edom, the biblical kingdom. The discovery is the first time that purple cloth from about 1,000 BC has been discovered and represents a glimpse into the Biblical Kings’ wardrobes.

Purple dye was coveted for its vibrant colour and longevity — but its origins, being sourced in minute amounts from shellfish — made it expensive to use.

Israeli archaeologists find 3,000-Year-old 'Biblical royal purple dye'
Scraps of dyed thread (pictured) unearthed in Israel that date back 3,000 years match the descriptions of the purple garments worn by royalty like King Solomon in the Bible

‘This is a very exciting and important discovery,’ said the Israel Antiquities Authority’s curator of organic finds, Naama Sukenik. This is the first piece of textile ever found from the time of David and Solomon that is dyed with the prestigious purple dye.’

‘In antiquity, purple attire was associated with the nobility, with priests, and of course with royalty.’ Direct radiocarbon dating has confirmed that the finds date from around 1,000 BC, matching the times of the biblical monarchies of David and Solomon in Jerusalem.

In the Old Testament, the colour is mentioned in the ‘Song of Songs’, chapter 3, verses 9–10.

‘King Solomon made for himself the carriage; he made it of wood from Lebanon,’ the scripture reads. Its posts he made of silver, its base of gold. Its seat was upholstered with purple, its interior inlaid with love.’

Royal purple dye — made from molluscs found in the Mediterranean, over 186 miles (300 km) north of Timna — is described in various Jewish and Christian texts. However, this is the first time that purple-dyed Iron Age textiles have actually been found in Israel — or, indeed, anywhere throughout the Southern Levant.

‘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,’ explained Dr Sukenik. The dye, he continued, often cost more than the equivalent amount of gold.

‘Until the current discovery, we had only encountered mollusc-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.’

Other organic materials — including Iron Age textiles, cords and leather — were also preserved at the Timna site thanks to the region’s extremely dry climate. These artefacts — which also date back to the time of David and Solomon — offer a unique glimpse into life during biblical times, the researchers said.

Researchers from Israel found remnants of woven fabric (pictured), a tassel and fibres of wool dyed in so-called ‘royal purple’ from a dig site in the Timna Valley

‘Our archaeological expedition has been excavating continuously at Timna since 2013,’ said Erez Ben-Yosef of Israel’s Tel Aviv University. If we excavated for another hundred years in Jerusalem, we would not discover textiles from 3,000 years ago.’

‘The state of preservation at Timna is exceptional and it is paralleled only by that at much later sites — such as Masada and the Judean Desert Caves.’

In recent years, the archaeologists have been excavating a relatively new site in the region, which is referred to as ‘Slaves’ Hill’.

‘The name may be misleading since, far from being slaves, the labourers were highly skilled metalworkers,’ added Professor Ben-Yosef. Timna was a production center for copper, the Iron Age equivalent of modern-day oil,’ the archaeologist continued.

‘Copper smelting required advanced metallurgical understanding that was a guarded secret and those who held this knowledge were the “hi-tech” experts of the time,’ he said.

‘Slaves Hill is the largest copper-smelting site in the valley and it is filled with piles of industrial waste such as slag from the smelting furnaces,’ said Professor Ben-Yosef.

‘One of these heaps yielded three scraps of coloured cloth. The colour immediately attracted our attention, but we found it hard to believe that we had found true purple from such an ancient period’.

According to the researchers, the purple dye — thought to have been called argaman in Hebrew — was produced from three species of mollusc that are indigenous to the Mediterranean Sea.

These species included the Banded Dye-Murex, the Spiny Dye-Murex and the Red-Mouthed Rock-Shell. The dye was made from a gland inside the body of the mollusc via a complex chemical process that lasted several days.

Argaman (purple) and tekhelet (azure) colours are often mentioned together in ancient texts and still have symbolic value and religious significance to this day. Temple priests, the Kings David and Solomon (pictured), and also Jesus of Nazareth are described as having worn purple

Today, most experts agree that two different precious dyes — the purple argaman and the light blue, or azure, tekhelet — were both produced from the purple dye molluscs, but using different levels of exposure to light.

These two colours are often mentioned together in ancient texts and still have symbolic value and religious significance to this day. Temple priests, the Kings David and Solomon and also Jesus of Nazareth are described as having worn purple-coloured clothing.

To reconstruct the mollusc dyeing process, Professor Amar travelled to Italy where he cracked open thousands of molluscs to extract raw material from their innards. This was then used in hundreds of attempts to reconstruct the ancient dye.

The Timna Valley — in the country’s south — is rich in copper ore and has been mined since the 5th millennium BC. It belonged to the biblical Kingdom of Edom.