First definitive proof of ancient blue dye tekhelet revealed in Israel

(JNS.org) The first definitive proof of production of the ancient blue dye tekhelet in Israel was revealed during an Israel Antiquities Authority presentation at a Jerusalem conference. 

Tekhelet tying methods on display at the Ptil Tekhelet conference in Jerusalem, where the first definitive proof of tekhelet  in Israel was revealed. Credit: Ptil Tekhelet.

Derived from shellfish, tekhelet is mentioned in the Torah as the dye used in the clothing of the High Priest in the Jerusalem Temple, as well as being mixed in with white in the fringes of the tzitzit garment. But the origins of tekhelet were lost after the Roman exile, and most tzitzit fringes today are colored exclusively white. Over the past century, experts—including the late Chief Rabbi Dr. Isaac Herzog—have attempted to rediscover the origins of the dye, tracing it to the hillazon snail. 

“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,” said Dr. Naama Sukenik, a researcher at the Israel Antiquities Authority.

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 said. 

The new evidence was presented at the “100 Years to Tekhelet Research” conference sponsored by Ptil Tekhelet, which was attended by more than 350 scientists, academics, and rabbinic scholars.

Posted on December 31, 2013 .