Archaeologists have unearthed an extensive fabric collection in the south of Israel dating back some 3,000 years to the biblical era of King David and Solomon, Tel Aviv University said Wednesday.

The materials were uncovered in the Timna copper mines in the Arava Valley by an Tel Aviv University excavation team led by Dr. Erez Ben-Yosef. The finds are the first discovery of textiles dating from the era and include cloth of diverse color, design and origin, the archaeologists said.

“No textiles (from this period) 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,” Ben-Yosef said. “We found fragments of textiles that originated from bags, clothing, tents, ropes and cords.”

The pieces of fabric, some only 5 x 5 centimeters in size, vary in color, weaving technique and ornamentation, the university said in a press release.

Tel Aviv University's Timna excavation team at work (Central Timna Valley Project – TAU)

Tel Aviv University’s Timna excavation team at work (Central Timna Valley Project – TAU)

“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.

The Timna Valley — now a national park — was a copper production district with thousands of mines and dozens of smelting sites, said by some to have been active during the reign of King Solomon. Fragments of furnaces, clothing, fabrics and rope and a number of food fragments were unearthed in a 2013 dig at the site whose findings were publicized Wednesday. The artifacts were dated to the 10th century BCE — the time during which, according to the bible, King Solomon ruled ancient Israel.

Also found from the same period — as confirmed by radiocarbon dating — were unprecedented quantities of seeds from the Biblical “Seven Species” (the two grains and five fruits considered unique products of the Land of Israel).

The mines are believed to have been operated by the semi-nomadic early Edomites, and the discoveries also offer insight into their complex society, said Ben-Yosef.

“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,” Ben-Yosef went on. “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.”

The materials found at the site underlined that the copper mines were the “silicon valley” of their day, the university said in a press release. “Copper was used to produce tools and weapons and was the most valuable resource in ancient societies,” it said. Producing it was a highly complex process. “Miners in ancient Timna may have been slaves or prisoners… but the act of smelting, of turning stone into metal, required an enormous amount of skill and organization.”

Added Ben-Yosef: “The possession of copper was a source of great power, much as oil is today. If a person had the exceptional knowledge to ‘create copper,’ he was considered well-versed in an extremely sophisticated technology. He would have been considered magical or supernatural, and his social status would have reflected this.”

Thus, food, water and textiles had to be transported long distances through the desert and into the valley to the mines to support the copper industry.

“The latest discovery of fabrics, many of which were made far from Timna in specialized textile workshops, provides a glimpse into the trade practices and regional economy of the day,” the university said.

“We found linen, which was not produced locally. It was most likely from the Jordan Valley or Northern Israel. The majority of the fabrics were made of sheep’s wool, a cloth that is seldom found in this ancient period,” said TAU masters student Vanessa Workman. “This tells us how developed and sophisticated both their textile craft and trade networks must have been.”