Textiles found at Timna Valley archaeological dig provide a colorful picture of a complex societyThis is a very exciting discovery in itself, but it also has an implication that is not taken up in the press release. An environment that preserved 3000-year-old seeds, leather, and fabric is also an environment that could preserve 3000-year-old scrolls and papyri. Such conditions are very rare: you have them in Egypt, the Dead Sea valley, and in very few other places. For example, we know there was a large scribal output on parchment (leather) in ancient Babylonia, but it is (so far) entirely lost due to the humid climate. Luckily, we do have many cuneiform tablets from Mesopotamia, since clay tablets survived readily in that environment, especially if they were fired, but much Aramaic literature on parchment was lost forever.
The ancient copper mines in Timna are located deep in Israel's Arava Valley and are believed by some to be the site of King Solomon's mines. The arid conditions of the mines have seen the remarkable preservation of 3,000-year-old organic materials, including seeds, leather and fabric, and other extremely rare artifacts that provide a unique window into the culture and practices of this period.
A Timna excavation team from Tel Aviv University led by Dr. Erez Ben-Yosef has uncovered an extensive fabric collection of diverse color, design and origin. This is the first discovery of textiles dating from the era of David and Solomon, and sheds new light on the historical fashions of the Holy Land. 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.
The tiny pieces of fabric, some only 5 x 5 centimeters in size, vary in color, weaving technique and ornamentation. "Some of these fabrics resemble textiles only known from the Roman era," said Dr. Orit Shamir, a senior researcher at the Israel Antiquities Authority, who led the study of the fabrics themselves.
"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," Dr. Ben-Yosef said. "We found fragments of textiles that originated from bags, clothing, tents, ropes and cords.
"The wide variety of fabrics also provides new and important information about the Edomites, who, according to the Bible, warred with the Kingdom of Israel. We found simply woven, elaborately decorated fabrics worn by the upper echelon of their stratified society. Luxury grade fabric adorned the highly skilled, highly respected craftsmen managing the copper furnaces. They were responsible for smelting the copper, which was a very complicated process."
It is now established that Timna is an environment in which scrolls could have survived from even as far back as the tenth century BCE, so if we are really lucky, maybe we can recover some of that elusive Iron Age II Edomite literature from there.