ancient textiles found in Israel ancient textiles found in Israel The fabric is actually wash-resistant. (Photo: Dr. Naama Sukenik / Israel Antiquities Authority)

We've been dyeing our clothes way longer than you thought

Archaeologists discovered the colored fabrics in an ancient copper mine.

Fashion has been around for millennia. And thanks to recent discoveries, we now know that it's been pretty fabulous the whole time.

Archaeologists in southern Israel just discovered brightly dyed fabrics dating back 3,000 years, the oldest evidence of ancient peoples using these kinds of advanced dyes in the region. The archaeologists found hundreds of pretty red, blue and yellow threads in a copper mine in Israel's Timna Valley.

ancient dyed fabric discovered in IsraelDon't think for a second that ancient peoples limited themselves to one color. (Photo: Naama Sukenik/Israel Antiquities Authority)

The fabrics are mostly wool, with a bit of goat hair and plant fibers thrown in. In addition to being pretty sweet from a fashion perspective (we could totally sell these in a Portland farmers market), the findings tell us a lot about the society that made them. They had pretty advanced dyeing technology, and they were probably into long-distance trade.

So how'd they make these? Apparently, the red colors came from the madder plant, and the blue from the woad plant.

"Both plants were known in antiquity as sources of organic dyes," said Dr. Erez Ben-Yosef, a Tel Aviv University archaeologist who helped find them. "We know that these plants were used to create elaborate costumes during the Roman period, more than a thousand years later. Now we have evidence in the region of an Edomite society wearing textiles produced the same way, versus an earlier 'primitive' smearing of color on fabric."

One of the glorious textiles found in southern Israel.These textiles date from the 13th-10th centuries B.C. (Photo: Clara Amit/Israeli Antiquities Authority)

Furthermore, the clothes imply that the society had a social hierarchy, working hard to produce luxuries. The archaeologists suspect an upper class must have made people work in the mines. "It is apparent that there was a dominant elite in this society that took pains to dress according to their 'class,'" continued Ben-Yosef.

It was a class that enjoyed some amazing colors. Seriously, our clothes fade after a few washes. How did these guys get theirs to last thousands of years?

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