To dye for: snail shell found on Temple Mount colors researchers' interest



The branded dye-murex shell discovered through the Temple Mount Sifting Project. Credit: Jennifer Green/Ir David Foundation.

(Israel Hayom/Exclusive to An ancient sea snail shell discovered on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem has created tremendous interest among researchers, who believe the find ties in with the particular shade of vibrant blue dye ("tchelet" in Hebrew) used in ancient times to color the fringes of religious garments.

The shell of the branded dye-murex (Hexaplex trunculus) snail was recently discovered as part of the Temple Mount Sifting Project, which is underway in the Emek Tzurim National Park. The project is funded by the Ir David Foundation and directed by archaeologists from Bar-Ilan University.

Archaeologist Zachi Dvira noted that finding the shell of an ancient sea snail far inland on the Temple Mount raises questions, as the snails are generally excavated in coastal archaeological digs.

"These snails were used in the luxury dye industry of ancient times," Dvira said. "They were used to produce the colors purple and tchelet. Dye industry equipment and fragments of snail shells have been discovered at Phoenician sites along the Mediterranean coast."

Dvira said the snail's mucus secretions produced the unique shade of blue used to dye the ritual fringed garments, cloths for use in the Temple, and the clothing of the ancient priests. The rabbinical sages had deemed the species kosher (snails in general are not) so the dye could be used. Modern research generally agrees that the branded dye-murex was the snail approved by the sages.

"We find conical shells and seashells during sifting. Some were apparently used for food, which was a favorite of Byzantine monks. Certain seashells were used as beads or pendants, and others were used to cover walls or floors in the time of the First Temple. In the case of the branded dye-murex, we still haven't conducted a thorough study of the distribution of this kind of find around the Mount, but it seems that dyeing facilities and shells of this type have been found at other sites in the center of Israel, too," Dvira said.

Following the discovery, archaeologists have started researching whether there was a dyeing facility on the Temple Mount during the Temple era.

Posted on February 16, 2017 .