In describing the vestments and curtains used in the Tabernacle and the Temple, the Hebrew Bible often mentions wool dyed purple using a rarefied pigment produced from the murex snail. Archaeologists recently confirmed that three textile scraps they found in the Timna Valley, near Israel’s southern tip, were colored with this particular dye. Amanda Borschel-Dan writes:
The tiny, vibrantly colored Iron Age cloth pieces are the earliest evidence of this precious dye in the entire southern Levant and shed new light on the early Edomite kingdom and Israelite kingdoms 3,000 years ago—a period when the Bible details the conquering of the Edomites by King David.
Until now, the earliest textile evidence of the royal purple dye dated to at least 1,000 years later in the Roman period, when it was highly valued. [Tel Aviv University’s] Erez Ben-Yosef explained that Timna is first and foremost known for its copper, which was mined by residents of the ancient Land of Israel as early as the 5th millennium BCE, going all the way to the early Islamic period some 1,400 years ago. Even recently, he said, the nascent state of Israel had a small factory that produced copper there.
The dry climatic conditions at Timna, deep in the Arava desert, allow for the unusually good preservation of organic materials, similar to the much later Roman-era textile and leather finds discovered in the caves of the Judean desert and at Masada.
What is noteworthy in Timna, said Ben-Yosef, is that the “big story” is related to the early Iron Age. “We’re talking about the 11th to the 9th centuries BCE, and it is a very debated period in the history of the land”—the period of the rise of the biblical kingdoms of Judah and Israel.