A fine wool textile dyed red and blue, found at Timna. A fine wool textile dyed red and blue, found at Timna. A fine wool textile dyed red and blue, found at Timna. (Photo: Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority)

Vintage fashion: 3,000-year-old fabrics discovered

Colorful textiles uncovered by archaeologists reveal a sophisticated, resourceful society.

They may not have boasted fashion houses like Lanvin or Louis Vuitton, but that doesn't mean some ancient civilizations didn't know how to doll themselves up in some fine fabrics.

Case in point: An excavation team from Israel's Tel Aviv University led by Dr. Erez Ben-Yosef announced it recently uncovered an extensive 3,000-year-old fabric collection of diverse color, design and origin located in the country's Timna Valley.

This is the first discovery of textiles dating from the era, and sheds new light on the historical fashions of the country. The textiles also offer insight into the complex society of the early Edomites, the semi-nomadic people believed to have operated the mines at Timna.

This wool textile found in Timna incorporated no fabric dyes.This wool textile found in Timna incorporated no fabric dyes. (Photo: Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority)

"No textiles have ever been found at excavation sites like Jerusalem, Megiddo and Hazor, so this provides a unique window into an entire aspect of life from which we've never had physical evidence before," Ben-Yosef said. "We found fragments of textiles that originated from bags, clothing, tents, ropes and cords."

The tiny pieces of fabric, some only 5-by-5 centimeters in size, vary in color, technique and ornamentation that researchers believe to be the work of highly skilled weavers – something the Edomites were not known for.

Layers of sandstone form painted hills at TimnaThe mine where the textiles were found is located in Israel's Timna Valley. (Photo: Protasov AN/Shutterstock)

"We found linen, which was not produced locally. It was most likely from the Jordan Valley or Northern Israel. The majority of the fabrics were made of sheep's wool, a cloth that is seldom found in this ancient period," said TAU masters student Vanessa Workman. "This tells us how developed and sophisticated both their textile craft and trade networks must have been."

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