An Israeli researcher announced this week that she has identified an ancient color, known as "biblical blue," on a nearly 2,000-year-old textile recovered in the 1950s from the Wadi Murabba'at caves, located south of Qumran in the West Bank.
Naama Sukenik of Israel's Antiquities Authority, who had been studying the ancient textile as part of her doctorate at Bar-Ilan University, revealed her findings at the "100 Years to Tekhelet Research" conference in Jerusalem on Tuesday. The conference is attended by more than 350 scientists and academics.
Sukenik said at the conference that the small piece of woolen fabric recovered from the caves was colored with dye from the Murex trunculus, a snail that researchers believe was used to make this rare blue color. The color, known as tekhelet in Hebrew, has been described multiple times in the Bible, including in Exodus Chapter 25 and Exodus Chapter 27.
Additionally, the enigmatic blue color has been used to describe the colors worn by the high priest in the Jerusalem Temple, as well as being used, along with white, on the ancient tzitzit garment worn by observant Jews.
Researchers believe the bluish color, along with similarly-derived purple and crimson colors, were worn by the most wealthy residents in Israel during the Roman Era. The caves where the fabrics were recovered are the same location where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in the 1940s and 1950s. It is unclear why the garments were being stored in the caves, but as The Blaze reports, one theory is the highly-coveted garments were stashed in the caves during the Bar Kochba Revolt in 132-136 A.D., or they could have been the possession of a Roman military unit living in the caves.
Sukenik said in a statement that until now, researchers have only been able to prove the existence of the rare blue dye by finding piles of murex trunculus shells in the area where the fabrics were discovered.
"Until now, our most important discovery had been the piles and piles of murex trunculus (hillazon snail) shells from the area, which served as a silent testimony to the presence of an ancient dyeing industry in Israel."
"But this newest finding from the times of Bar Kokhba – sky blue fabric from the Dead Sea region – is definitive proof of both a colored fabrics trade and strict adherence to the biblical commandment of tekhelet in ancient Israel," Sukenik added.
Yoli Shwartz, a spokeswoman for the Israel Antiquities Authority, added in a statement that "the importance of this fabric is extremely significant as there are practically no parallels for it in the archaeological record."