Israeli archaeologists find earliest evidence of use of cotton in the Middle East

He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.

Deuteronomy

26:

9

(the israel bible)

December 18, 2022

2 min read

A team of Israeli archaeologists has uncovered the earliest evidence of the use of cotton in the ancient Middle East, the University of Haifa announced Sunday.

Remains of cotton fibers dating back to some 7,000 years ago were found in the archaeological site of Tel Tsaf, located in the central Jordan Valley, south-east of Beit She’an, during an excavation led by University of Haifa Prof. Danny Rosenberg. The artifacts were then examined in a study conducted in collaboration with researchers at Stanford University in the US and the State Museum of Hanover in Germany.

According to the experts, the cotton probably arrived from the area of the Indus Valley, or modern-day Pakistan, making the finding especially significant.

“Tel Tsaf was a large village from the Chalcolithic period, which flourished during the transition between small agricultural communities and large urban cities,” said Rosenberg. “We already knew that the inhabitants of the site had commercial relations with distant regions such as Egypt, Iraq and Anatolia. Now we see that their trade expanded even further, reaching the Indus Valley.”

According to the professor, the cotton fibers uncovered were probably part of ancient textiles.

While experts believe that ancient humans were able to produce textiles already tens of thousands of years ago, the organic materials used for this purpose – probably fibers extracted from different plants – are not usually able to survive such long periods.

The new discovery at Tel Tsaf predates the former earliest evidence of the use of cotton in the region – remains found in Jordan – by a few hundred years.

Recently, researchers have started using new methods for locating organic findings, including microscopic and chemical tests.

“As in the case of DNA and organic materials research that we also conduct at Tel Tsaf, the main challenge is preventing the contamination of the sample,” Rosenberg said. “We must prevent modern fibers from coming in contact with the sample, since cotton fibers can be found in most clothing items today.”

Over the years, the archaeologists working in Tel Tsaf have discovered very significant remains from the Chalcolithic period, pottery vessels, tools – including the most ancient metal object ever found in the region – storage facilities and more.

Experts believe that hundreds of people lived in the village, making it a very significant center for the time. However, some 500 years after its establishment, Tel Tsaf ceased to be inhabited, the archaeological evidence suggests. The reason for this development remains a mystery, Rosenberg said.

“We are still trying to understand why in such an important period of time in human history, when the small agricultural villages began to expand and the social structure became more complex, such a prosperous site ceased to exist,” he remarked.

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