Biblical Shade of Blue Rediscovered

Celebrated color called Tekhelet identified in 2,000-year-old cloth
By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 28, 2011 9:14 AM CST
Biblical Shade of Blue Called Tekhelet Rediscovered
Tekhelet was the inspiration for the blue of the Israeli flag.   (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

The Bible describes a shade of blue known as tekhelet, worn in ceremonial robes and considered the most important of the ritual colors—but the color's exact appearance has puzzled scholars, who have compared it to the color of sapphires, the sea, and the sky, for centuries. Now, an Israeli researcher has pinpointed what he calls the first known example of the hue, found on a 2,000-year-old piece of cloth—and it’s closer to “bluish purple” than tradition holds, the New York Times reports.

The fabric was found decades ago at King Herod’s fortress of Masada, but the dye wasn't linked to the snail species—still living in Israel—that the Talmud says is the source of the color until now. The fact that it’s blue and was made from these snails’ secretions indicates that the shade is indeed tekhelet, says the researcher, who notes that dyes previously found on fabrics from the period were all plant-based. “It’s especially exciting for religious Jews who place great importance on this color,” says another scholar. (Read more color stories.)

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