Archaeologists reveal ancient purple dye factory | Trending Viral hub


The most precious pigment of antiquity was not processed from a tangle of roots or the foamy extract of an herb, but by extracting a viscous secretion from the mucous glands behind the anus of murex sea snails: “the bottom of which they feed from the bottom,” historian Kelly Grovier has written. The dye’s common name, Tyrian purple, derives from the habitat of the mollusks, which Phoenicians supposedly began collecting in the 16th century BC in the city-state of Tyre, in modern-day Lebanon.

Because each snail produced little more than a drop of its secretion (a clear, smelly liquid), according to some sources it took about 250,000 to produce one ounce of dye. Purple was labor-intensive, but its production was so extensive that piles of shells discarded millennia ago are now geographical features of the region. The dye was also so expensive (worth more than three times its weight in gold, according to a Roman edict issued in 301 AD) that its use was reserved for priests, nobility, and royalty. “While purple may have symbolized a higher order, it reeked of lower filth,” writes Dr. Grovier in his book “The Art of Color.”

Where all this purple color came from has long been a mystery. Only a few places along the southern coast of the Levant and in Cyprus show evidence of dye manufacturing at the beginning of the period, and all were on a modest scale. But a new study A study by researchers at the University of Haifa in Israel suggests that during most of the biblical Iron Age era, from about 1150 BC. C. until 600 BC. BCE, a small promontory called Tel Shiqmona on the Carmel coast of Israel was not a residential settlement, as previously assumed, but an important purple dyeing factory.

“Tel Shiqmona fills this gap with continuous production, most often in massive quantities,” said Golan Shalvi, a postdoctoral student in archeology at the University of Chicago and lead author of the paper. “For most of the Iron Age, it is the only site where manufacturing can be demonstrated with certainty.”

Aaron Schmitt, an expert on Phoenician culture who teaches archeology at the University of Heidelberg in Germany and who was not involved in the project, praised the study for shedding new light on the abandoned ruins. “Finding a place that really specializes in this economic branch is very significant and special,” he said.

The research, published in the Journal of the Institute of Archeology of Tel Aviv, proposes that during the first half of the 9th century BC, the Israelites took over Tel Shiqmona and set out to corner the lucrative purple dye market by turning the small dyeing facility into a a fortified factory surrounded by a wall of casemates. (This was around the same time that Ahab ruled the Kingdom of Israel.)

The new operation was more or less a joint venture, run by the Israelites and staffed with skilled Phoenician workers who held the secrets to making the dye, Dr. Shalvi said. It is unclear whether locals continued the operation through coercion or cooperation.

In theory, goods gathered at Tel Shiqmona, primarily wool or purple-dyed textiles, were distributed to the elite and temples throughout the area, including Israel, Phenicia, Philistia, Aram, Judea, and Cyprus. Dr. Shalvi said the dye likely created both the argaman (purple) and techelet (blue) mentioned dozens of times in the Hebrew Bible. Techelet was used to dye tzitzit (tassels) on tallits (prayer shawls) used in Jewish religious rituals and inspired the blue of the Israeli flag.

“The making of purple at Tel Shiqmona overlapped with the existence of the First Temple in Jerusalem,” said Dr. Shalvi, referring to the house of worship that, according to Jewish tradition, was built by King Solomon on the site where God created Adam. “For most of that time, it was the only known place where the dye was made. Therefore, he is the only candidate to provide the color for the scarlet and sapphire hues of the temple vestments and the tabernacle curtains.”

Tyrian purple was the only colorfast dye known to the ancients; The fabric dyed that color became brighter with weathering and sunlight. Shades ranged from bluish green to purplish red, depending on how the dye was prepared and fixed on the textiles. The most vibrant hue was the deep crimson of “clotted blood” dyed black, reported the Roman historian Pliny.

In imperial Rome, sumptuary laws restricted the purchase and use of purple-dyed fabric to the emperor (purple silk could only be worn under his orders under penalty of death) and, to a lesser extent, to senators and consuls, whom They were allowed to wear wide purple bands on the edges of their togas.

The name and origin of Tyrian purple were inventions of the Romans. Already in 1900 BC. C., the Minoans of Crete were already preparing a purple dye from sea snails, generating an industry that later became popular and flourished throughout the eastern Mediterranean. The center of production is believed to have moved to the port of Tyre, although Dr Schmitt said this could not be corroborated by primary sources, either textual or archaeological. In the port, snails were collected in shallow water and left to rot in large jars before being distilled to obtain the purified dye. (Phoinike, the Greek name for the area, is related to phoinix, meaning “reddish purple,” leading some scholars to speculate that Phenicia was “the land of purple.”)

Julius Pollux, Greek scholar and grammarian of the 2nd century AD, attributed the discovery of color to Tyrian Hercules, known to the Phoenicians as Melqart, guardian deity of Tyre. In his “Onomasticon,” a 10-volume thesaurus, Pollux relates that a nymph named Tyrus was walking on the beach when her dog bit into a sea snail, staining the dog’s mouth a deep purple. Tire was captivated by the brilliance and told Hercules, his lover, that she wanted a tunic of the same color. Hercules obeyed and the color purple became royal wrath.

In the 17th century, artist Peter Paul Rubens recreated the thread in the oil painting “Hercules’ Dog Discovers the Purple Dye.” Unfortunately, he got the shell wrong and depicted a spiral nautilus snail instead of a spiny murex.

Tire is 30 miles north of Tel Shiqmona, where the purple pigment was created from the dried, boiled guts of three species of predatory sea snails: the spiny murex (Bolinus brandaris), the ringed murex (Hexaplex trunculus) and the Redmouth rockshell (Stramonita haemostoma). Each added a slightly different cast to the mix.

Tel Shiqmona had long baffled archaeologists, who wondered why what appeared to be some kind of fort had been erected far from agricultural land on a rocky stretch of coast that offered no safe harbor for ships.

Between 1963 and 1977, Yosef Elgavish, an Israeli archaeologist, extensively excavated the eight-acre site. Working on behalf of the Haifa Museum, he unearthed weaving and spinning equipment, large purple-dyed ceramic jars, and evidence of human habitation dating to around 1500 BC. Although some archaeological layers housed Phoenician pottery, Dr. Elgavish also found a four-room house and olive presses, which he identified as typical of Israelite settlements of the 10th century BC.

“Dr. Elgavish had a hunch that Tel Shiqmona had some role in the production of the purple dye, but he did not delve into the amount of production or who was directing the dyeing process,” Dr. Shalvi said.

For the next four decades, the site was almost completely ignored by academic research. “The results and findings of the early expeditions were not investigated or published,” Dr. Shalvi said. In 2016, he and Ayelet Gilboa, his doctoral advisor at the University of Haifa, began a project to save what they called the “cultural and intellectual assets” hidden in the forgotten finds.

Dr. Shalvi soon realized that defining Tel Shiqmona as exclusively Israelite did not reflect the complexity of the region. He divided the site’s Iron Age chronology into four main episodes: a Phoenician village (1100 BC to 900 BC); a walled enclosure controlled by the Israelites (900 BC to 740 BC); a short-lived resettlement following the destruction of the kingdom and facilities (740 BC to 700 BC), and an unfortified industrial complex under Assyrian domination that survived until the Babylonian takeover of the territory (700 BC to 600 BC). BC)

Three years ago, after carefully reviewing the thousands of finds from Dr. Elgavish’s excavation, Dr. Shalvi had an epiphany. “I discovered purple trails that no one else had noticed,” he said. “As soon as I opened my eyes and saw the purple staining pattern, I noticed it everywhere.”

That afternoon he called Dr. Gilboa and told her his revelation. “We discussed whether it would be a good idea for me to see a psychiatrist,” Dr. Shalvi said with a dry laugh. “Fortunately, chemical analysis showed that in all cases the purple color was real.”


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