Recently Discovered Ancient Factory for Blue Dye Techelet: “Fulfillment of Prophecy in Zechariah”

Thus said the lord of Hosts: In those days, ten men from nations of every tongue will take hold—they will take hold of every Yehudi by a corner of his cloak and say, “Let us go with you, for we have heard that Hashem is with you.” Zechariah 8:23 (The Israel Bible™)

Shards of Phoenician pottery recovered fifty years ago from the archeological dig in Tel Shikmona located south of Haifa have finally been studied and revealed an amazing story. The Iron Age settlement dates back to the 11th to 6th centuries BCE century BCE and despite its existence on the coast being well documented, the purpose of the original site has puzzled researchers. It is located in a rocky section of the shoreline, inaccessible to boats and the area is not suited for agriculture. For this reason, a recent discovery study by Prof. Ayelet Gilboa and Ph.D. candidate Golan Shalvi of the University of Haifa may have been the key to finally explaining this mystery.

The researchers focused on analyzing remnants of blue and purple dye left on almost 30 sherds, the largest amount ever found in a single archeological site, which allowed them to determine that the dye was produced from Murex snails. The site also contained tools for manufacturing and working with textiles such as loom weights and spindle whorls.

“What we found seems to be a factory for producing dye from the murex snail,” Shalvi told Breaking Israel News. “The rocky reefs adjacent to Tel Shikmona were the ideal habitat for the snails.”

Tzit tzit (fringe) strings and the shells from which the blue dye is made. Tzitzit are specially knotted ritual fringes worn by observant Jews, attached to the four corners of the tallit (Jewish prayer shawl). (Yaakov Naumi/Flash 90)

“In general, researchers use the term Argamon to refer to all of the dyes produced from snails,” Shalvi said.  Argaman and Techelet are mentioned in the Bible to refer to a dye used for decorating items in the Temple. “There is a debate over the source of Techelet, but most researchers now think that it is a blue color also produced from the murex snails, similar to purple.”

Techelet is a blue dye highly prized by ancient Mediterranean civilizations and mentioned 49 times in the Hebrew Bible. It was used in the clothing of the High Priest, the tapestries in the Tabernacle, and in tzitzit (ritual fringes worn by Jewish men). The practice of dying one thread in the tzitzit was discontinued after the destruction of the Temple and the knowledge of how to produce the dye was lost however according to some opinions, the dye was made from the murex snail.

Rabbi Tuly Weisz, the head of Israel365, believes this recent archaeological discovery has powerful implications for the Redemption.

“For centuries, many things, like Techelet, have been hidden from us,” Rabbi Weisz said. We are currently witnessing them being revealed in vivid full-color and 3-D. Only in recent years was the Murex discovered. This weeks discovery is even more evidence of Biblical truth. 

“The meaning of the prophecy in Zechariah was hidden, actually indecipherable,” Rabbi Weisz said, citing the verse.

Thus said the lord of Hosts: In those days, ten men from nations of every tongue will take hold—they will take hold of every Yehudi by a corner of his cloak and say, “Let us go with you, for we have heard that Hashem is with you.” Zechariah 8:23

“As the lost secrets of the tzitzit are revealed, so is the deeper meaning of this verse referring to the fringes of our garments,” Rabbi Weisz said. “The nations are actually doing this. That is why we created The Israel Bible. That is the purpose of Breaking Israel News. This discovery portends a greater fulfilling of this prophecy.”

Though the researchers could not make a definitive connection between the Techelet factory at Tel Shikomona, they allowed that such a connection was quite possible.

“In our research, we use the term Argaman to refer to all of the dyes made from snails,” Shalvi said.  Argaman is a term used in the Bible to refer to a dye used for creating items in the Temple. “It is possible to produce dyes of a similar shade from plants but chemical analysis proved that this dye was made from snails. This was higher quality, lasted much longer and was much more expensive.”

The site began to operate as a textile factory in the Late Bronze Age in the 11th century BCE and continued to operate until the 6th century BCE. This meant it was in operation throughout the period of the Judges and even into the period of the Kingdoms of Judea and Israel.

To date, this is the only production site discovered from biblical times that was solely intended for the production of the Argaman dye. “No other center for the production of purple has been found in Iron Age Phoenicia,” Shalvi said. “We know that there were production sites in Tyre and Sidon and other sites in Lebanon, and thousands of Murex shells have been found there, but it is impossible to date them and there is still no evidence of the production installations themselves and no direct evidence of the dye. Our identification of the character and function of Shikmona shows that it was certainly an important center for purple-dyed textiles. Rather than being considered a region of secondary importance in this period, the Carmel Coast can now gain its rightful place as one of the most important production areas of the dye in ancient times in general, and during the biblical period in particular.”

The pottery and other finds at the site link it to the ancient Phoenician culture and it was probably operated by Phoenicians. From there the dye was exported to various regions in the Mediterranean and may have been was of Phoenician origin but Shalvi notes that it may still have been the source of dye for the Temple. For most of the Iron Age, there were tight commercial contacts between the Phoenicians and the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah. Purple-dyed textiles and garments were undoubtedly one of the more important exchanged commodities.

“I cannot determine definitively that this was or was not the source for Techelet and Argaman for the Temple, but even if it was a Phoenician site this does not exclude this possibility,” Shalvi said. “After all, according to the Bible, the Phoenicians (Hiram, king of Tire) were partners in building the Temple.”

The Shikmona project is conducted under the auspices of the Zinman Institute of Archeology at the University of Haifa, with the support of the Israel Antiquities Authority and the National Maritime Museum in Haifa. Recently excavations at the site were renewed by Drs. Michael Eisenberg and Shai Bar from the Zinman Institute. Some of the findings are permanently displayed in the National Maritime Museum in Haifa.

Some of the purple dye sherds have already been analyzed in the past by Nira Karmon and Prof. Ehud Spanier from the University of Haifa. Currently, a new chemical examination of dozens of such vats is being undertaken by Dr. Naama Sukenik, curator of organic materials in the Israel Antiquities Authority, in cooperation with a team of researchers from Bar Ilan University – Dr. David Ilouz, Dr. Alexander Vervack, and Prof. Zohar Amar.