Painting 'David anointed by Samuel' and some of the purple fabric found at Timna. (Israel Antiquities Authority/Dafna Gazit) (Israel Antiquities Authority/Dafna Gazit)
purple fabric

Archaeological find gives a glimpse into the wardrobe of King David and King Solomon from 3000 years ago.

By Yakir Benzion, United With Israel

Archaeologists excavating at ancient copper mines in southern Israel have recovered scraps of fabric dyed in royal purple from the time of Kings David and King Solomon. This is the first time remnants of such “royal clothing” has been found from the age of the great biblical kings from 3000 years ago.

“The color immediately attracted our attention, but we found it hard to believe we had found true purple from such an ancient era,” said the researchers from the Israel Antiquities Authority on Thursday.

The dig has been ongoing since 2013 in the Timna Valley, known as the site of ancient copper mines located some 25 kilometers (15 miles) north of the city of Eilat.

A large section of the valley is a park where visitors can see spectacular geological features as well as preserved excavations of ancient copper mines, including rock drawings from ancient Egypt.

In the joint project carried out by the Israel Antiquities Authority, Tel Aviv University and Bar Ilan University, researchers were surprised to find remnants of woven fabric, a tassel and fibers of wool dyed with royal purple that radiocarbon dating confirmed to be 3,000 years old, corresponding to the biblical monarchies of David and Solomon in Jerusalem.

The dye, which is produced from species of mollusk found in the Mediterranean, over 300 km from Timna, is often mentioned in the Bible, including in a passage in the Song of Songs (3:9–10): “King Solomon made for himself the carriage; he made it of wood from Lebanon. Its posts he made of silver, its base of gold. Its seat was upholstered with purple, its interior inlaid with love.”

“This is a very exciting and important discovery,” said Dr. Naama Sukenik, curator of organic finds at the Israel Antiquities Authority. “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. 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,” Dr. Sukenik said.

Prof. Erez Ben-Yosef of Tel Aviv University explained that the extremely dry climate of Timna helped preserve 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.”

“If we excavated for another hundred years in Jerusalem, we would not discover textiles from 3000 years ago. The state of preservation at Timna is exceptional,” said Prof. Ben-Yosef.

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