First Rare Evidence Of Biblical Purple From The Time Of King David And King Solomon

Jan Bartek – – For the first time ever scientists have come across rare evidence of fabric dyed with royal purple dating from the time of King David and King Solomon.

Dye was considered more valuable than gold and was associated with royalty. While excavating at a site in Timna, an ancient copper production district in southern Israel about 220km (137 miles) south of Jerusalem, archaeologists discovered a piece of fabric that offers a unique glimpse into the wardrobe of King David and King Solomon 3,000 years ago.

Previous finds at Timna Valley date back to King Solomon-era and point to a sophisticated ancient society.

First Rare Evidence Of Biblical Purple From The Time Of King David And King Solomon

Sandstone cliffs in Timna Valley featuring King Solomon’s Pillars. Credit: Little Savage – Public Domain

This new discovery in the same region sheds new light on the history of Biblical personalities and their lifestyles.

Although researchers have excavated at the Timna site for many years they were surprised to find remnants of woven fabric, a tassel, and fibers of wool dyed with royal purple.

The existence of Biblical King Solomon is shrouded in mystery. There are those who suggest the great King was only invented as political propaganda to unite people of Judah. There are also scholars who are convinced King Solomon was a real person, but it has so far been very difficult to confirm his existence.

Biblical King Solomon of Israel and son of King David, was renowned for his fabled wisdom, power, and his personal fortune, but where did he acquire his wealth? In the Bible, it is written that Solomon’s servants, traveled to Ophir ‘and fetched from thence gold, 420 talents’ – roughly 20 tons. But that is where the clues stop, and the trail goes cold. The location of Ophir, it seems, was meant to remain a mystery. The true location of legendary Ophir has never been established.

First Rare Evidence Of Biblical Purple From The Time Of King David And King Solomon

Wool textile fragment decorated by threads dyed with Royal Purple, ~1000 BCE, Timna Valley, Israel Credit: Dafna Gazit, the Israel Antiquities Authority

It has been suggested King Solomon’s mines may have been in the Timna Valley. Some years ago, Dr. Erez Ben-Yousef, an archaeologist from Tel Aviv University led a dig in a previously unexamined section of the site known as Slaves’ Hill. His team uncovered archaeological evidence of dozens of the furnaces used to smelt copper as well as layers of cooper slag, a by-product of the smelting process.

The team also found a trove of personal items, including clothing, ceramics, fabrics and tools, and the remnants of a variety of food items, indicating a highly developed, long-term settlement at the site.

If we want to unravel the true story of King Solomon, the Timna Valley can be an excellent place to excavate.

Direct radiocarbon dating of the recent piece of fabric confirms that the finds date from approximately 1,000 B.C., corresponding to the Biblical monarchies of David and Solomon in Jerusalem.

First Rare Evidence Of Biblical Purple From The Time Of King David And King Solomon

King Solomon and the plan for the First Temple. Illustration from a Bible card published by the Providence Lithograph Co. Credit: Public Domain

The dye, which is produced from species of mollusk found in the Mediterranean, over 300 km from Timna, is often mentioned in the Bible and appears in various Jewish and Christian contexts.

This is the first time that purple-dyed Iron Age textiles have been found in Israel, or indeed throughout the Southern Levant.

“This is a very exciting and important discovery,” explains 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.

Until the current discovery, we had only encountered mollusk-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.”

“Our archaeological expedition has been excavating continuously at Timna since 2013. As a result of the region’s extremely dry climate, we are also able to recover 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 and it is paralleled only by that at much later sites such as Masada and the Judean Desert Caves. In recent years, we have been excavating a new site inside Timna known as Slaves’ Hill.

The name may be misleading since far from being slaves, the laborers were highly skilled metalworkers. Timna was a production center for copper, the Iron Age equivalent of modern-day oil.

First Rare Evidence Of Biblical Purple From The Time Of King David And King Solomon

In an artistic representation, King Solomon dedicates the Temple at Jerusalem (painting by James Tissot or follower, c. 1896–1902). Credit: Public Domain – Read also: Mystery Of King Solomon’s Temple

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. 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.

One of these heaps yielded three scraps of colored cloth. The color immediately attracted our attention, but we found it hard to believe that we had found true purple from such an ancient period,” Professor Erez Ben-Yosef from Tel Aviv University’s Archaeology Department says.

According to the researchers, true purple [argaman] was produced from three species of mollusk indigenous to the Mediterranean Sea: The Banded Dye-Murex (Hexaplex trunculus), the Spiny Dye-Murex (Bolinus brandaris) and the Red-Mouthed Rock-Shell (Stramonita haemastoma). The dye was produced from a gland located within the body of the mollusk by means of a complex chemical process that lasted several days.

Today, most scholars agree that the two precious dyes, purple [argaman] and light blue, or azure [tekhelet] were produced from the purple dye mollusk under different conditions of exposure to light. When exposed to light, azure is obtained whereas without light exposure, a purple hue is obtained. These colors are often mentioned together in the ancient sources, and both have symbolic and religious significance to this day. The Temple priests, David and Solomon, and Jesus of Nazareth are all described as having worn clothing colored with purple.

According to Dr. Naama Sukenik, “Most of the colored textiles found at Timna, and in archaeological research in general, were dyed using various plant-based dyes that were readily available and easier to dye with.

The use of animal-based dyes is regarded as much more prestigious, and served as an important indicator for the wearer’s high economic and social status. The remnants of the purple-dyed cloth that we found are not only the most ancient in Israel, but in the Southern Levant in general.

First Rare Evidence Of Biblical Purple From The Time Of King David And King Solomon

Wool fibers dyed with Royal Purple,~1000 BCE, Timna Valley, Israel. Credit: Dafna Gazit, the Israel Antiquities Authority

We also believe that we have succeeded in identifying the double-dyeing method in one of the fragments, in which two species of mollusk were used in a sophisticated way, to enrich the dye. This technology is described by the Roman historian Pliny the Elder, from the first century CE, and the dye it produced was considered the most prestigious.”

Prof. Ben-Yosef identifies the copper-production center at Timna as part of the Biblical Kingdom of Edom, which bordered the kingdom of Israel to the south.

According to him, the dramatic finds should revolutionize our concepts of nomadic societies in the Iron Age. “The new finds reinforce our assumption that there was an elite at Timna, attesting to a stratified society. In addition, since the mollusks are indigenous to the Mediterranean, this society obviously maintained trade relations with other peoples who lived on the coastal plain. However, we do not have evidence of any permanent settlements in the Edomite territory.

The Edomite Kingdom was a kingdom of nomads in the early Iron Age. 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.

First Rare Evidence Of Biblical Purple From The Time Of King David And King Solomon

Have you heard about Biblical Lydia who found a way to make her own money by having a business in dyed purple wool and possibly selling different dyes? Read more about Biblical Lydia. Left: Source – Right: Source – Pinterest

Yet in certain circumstances, nomads can also create a complex socio-political structure, one that the biblical writers could identify as a kingdom. Of course, this whole debate has repercussions for our understanding of Jerusalem in the same period. We know that the Tribes of Israel were originally nomadic and that the process of settlement was gradual and prolonged. 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 artifacts.”

See also: More Archaeology News

According to Ben-Yosef, “It is wrong to assume that if no grand buildings and fortresses have been found, then Biblical descriptions of the United Monarchy in Jerusalem must be literary fiction. Our new research at Timna has showed us that even without such buildings, there were kings in our region who ruled over complex societies, formed alliances and trade relations, and waged war on each other.

The wealth of a nomadic society was not measured in palaces and monuments made of stone, but in things that were no less valued in the ancient world—such as the copper produced at Timna and the purple dye that was traded with its copper smelters.”

Written by Jan Bartek – – Staff Writer