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6000-Year-Old Fabric in Peru Reveals Pre-Historic Use of Indigo Blue Dye

Sep 17, 2016 05:37 AM EDT
Indigo Dye
A 6000-year-old ancient fabric discovered in Peru reveals that pre-historic Peruvians have used indigo blue dye long before Egyptians did. Pictured above is a piece of indigo plant dye.
(Photo : Evan Izer/Wikimedia Commons)

A 6000-year-old ancient fabric discovered in Peru reveals that early prehispanic Peruvians have used indigo blue dye (the color we see in jeans today) long before Egyptians did.

According to a study published in the journal Science Advances, a team of archeologists has unearthed the piece of fabric at Huaca Prieta located on Peru's north coast. Huaca Prieta is an ancient ceremonial mound where ancient Peruvians lived 14,5000 to 4,000 years ago.

Jeffrey Splitstoster, a textile expert at George Washington University, reported that they have unearthed a number of ancient textiles at the site and have examined more than 800 of them, Los Angeles Times reports. The newly discovered Peruvian textile is older than the indigo-dyed fabrics in Egypt by 1,500 years and in China by 3,000 years.

“It is possible it is the earliest known example of cloth dyeing in the world. I don’t know of anything older," said Splitstoser. “The preservation at the site is excellent, so their fragmentary nature is due to the fact that prior to being discarded, they were in that condition."

Splitstoser further said that the pieces of fabric unearthed were small swatches that seemed to have been ripped or torn from a larger piece of cloth. He also added that the fabrics look like they have been twisted and dipped in liquid.

Because of their size, Splitstoser believes that the unearthed fabrics were used not for clothing but for carrying items, just like what people do in the Andes, where they put an object at the center of the cloth to carry it.

“I think they were carrying things in the bag to the temple and then ritually depositing or using them there and leaving the textiles there as well," he said.

Jan Wouters, a chemist at the University College London, examined the blue traces in the fabric and said that the dye was probably from Indigofera, a plant used to make indigo dyes. However, Wouters notes that extracting the indigo color from the plant requires several processes including fermentation, which means that ancient Peruvians have the knowledge to not only weave fabric but extract color too.

“In the modern world, we sometimes think of ancient people as primitive with a lack of understanding about the world. But really, you had to be pretty smart to live back then," Splitstoser concluded.

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