Cotton dyed in blue and other colours found in Neolithic Israel couldn’t have been local because it isn’t indigenous, but it was in the Indus Valley, archaeologists say.

Traces of Cotton In Israel Believes To Originate from Indus Valley

Cotton was unknown to the earliest Near Eastern civilizations because it was not indigenous to the region, and where and when it was first domesticated are unknowns. But now traces of this alien plant with its exquisitely soft bolls of cotton have been detected in Tel Tsaf, Israel.

According to the researchers, this is the first trace of cotton discovered in the Near East in centuries. They believe it came from the Indus Valley, but they do not rule out an African origin.

Cotton dyed in blue and other colours found in Neolithic Israel couldn’t have been local because it isn’t indigenous, but it was in the Indus Valley, archaeologists say.

How did cotton get to Israel 7,000 years ago from the Indus Valley (or North Africa)? In Frontiers in Plant Science, Li Liu of Stanford University, Maureece Levin of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Florian Klimscha of the Lower Saxony State Museum (Hannover, Germany), and Danny Rosenberg of the University of Haifa propose trading.

Tel Tsaf, Israel contains the remains of a village that emerged about 7,300 to 7,200 years ago and would thrive for about 500 years, after which it was vacated for reasons that remain unknown. That in itself is quite a mystery given the abundance of its environs in the central Jordan Valley, south of the Sea of Galilee, Rosenberg notes. But, for the time being, this was a satisfactory resolution.

The most ancient copper object in this part of the Middle East (it’s slightly older in Iraq), a clay model of a grain silo (possibly indicating ritual involving food cultivation and storage), and a stamped sealing from around 7,000 years ago were discovered during a half-century of excavation there. All of this suggests that Tel Tsaf was a remarkably wealthy late Neolithic settlement, according to the archaeologists.

Liu, Rosenberg, and colleagues have discovered cotton microfibers from 7,000 years ago, at least some of which were dyed. This could provide more evidence of trading relationships in the valley as it transitioned from the late Neolithic to the early Chalcolithic.

It bears adding that the earliest cotton reported previously was in Dhuweila, eastern Jordan, and dates to centuries later—sometime between 6,450 years ago and around 5,000 years ago.

To be clear, humans did not walk around in the wild with their bits flapping in the breeze until they discovered the wonders of cotton. The thinking, says Rosenberg, is that the earliest clothing was animal skins, whether worn to maintain humility, for reasons of status, for warmth, or for some other reason.

But hmo-kind discovered plant fibres at least tens of thousands of years ago. Archaeologists discovered a three-ply cord in a Neanderthal context in France in 2020, unseating a 23,000-year-old string discovered in Ohalo, Israel.

What the Neanderthals or humans from Ohalo were doing with string, we do not know. However, the archaeologists point out that the ability to make cord is required for a wide range of potential developments, including textile weaving.

To put it mildly, textiles do not fare well in the archaeological record. Moving on from the Ohalo cord, evidence of early weaving appears here and there, including an extremely complex woven basket discovered 10,500 years ago in a cave in the Judean Desert. Meanwhile, material made of oak bast (the innards of bark) was discovered 8,500 years ago in Atalhöyük, Turkey.

In short, people in the region used bast and flax fibres before cotton. Now, Liu, Rosenberg, and their colleagues report on cotton in Tel Tsaf, albeit from afar and before the plant was domesticated and dyed.

What colours were used to tint the fibres, and can they speak to Neolithic tastes? They are unable to. Rosenberg emphasises that the sample of fibres from Tel Tsaf is small (123 microfibers in total), and the fact that 16 of them were cotton in blue, three pink, one purple, one green, and three brown or black means nothing about their preferences.

What it does mean, the professor qualifies, is that these late prehistoric peoples were not just making textiles and fibers; they were doing further manipulation and colouring their cloths. By the way, the most frequently used fiber in ancient Tel Tsaf was bast, and they also used flax and jute, the archaeologists report.

Let us now look at the origins of cotton. Why couldn’t Tel Tsaf, Israel cotton fibres be made locally? And why do they believe it’s Pakistan rather than North Africa?

It isn’t likely to have been grown locally because cotton is happiest in tropical and subtropical regions with ample water. It did not appear to grow in prehistoric Israel, and it is thought that, like the “invention” of agriculture, cotton cultivation arose independently around the world, including in the Indus Valley and North Africa. “But cultivation in North Africa was later,” Rosenberg explains.

Cotton was first discovered in the pre-Pottery Neolithic period at the Mehrgarh burial site in central Balochistan, Pakistan. The term “electronic commerce” refers to the sale of electronic goods.

It is worth noting that the earliest known cotton fabric is a tiny fragment of actual cloth (albeit stuck to the lid of a silver vase) discovered between 5,000 and 4,750 years ago in Mohenjo-daro, Pakistan. According to Rosenberg, cotton was known in some context in prehistoric Pakistan at the time of its appearance in Tel Tsaf.

What kind of cotton? Wild cotton. The plant apparently wouldn’t be domesticated for at least 2,000 years more, he explains. “Domestication is thought to have occurred during the time of the Harappan civilization (2600–1900 B.C.E.) based primarily on evidence from seeds,” the authors write.

Aside from making threads to string crude copper beads, how else could the wild cotton have been used? Cotton isn’t used for baskets, so weaving textiles is a reasonable assumption.

Another clothing source staple, sheep, did enter our human story around 10,000 years ago, coinciding with the start of the Neolithic Revolution. The archaeological record of perishables, on the other hand, is patchy at best, and the earliest recognition of the charms of wool as opposed to mutton stew is unclear. Some think wool-shearing and related technology arose in the Chalcolithic; some think that in Mesopotamia it began as much as 9,000 years ago.

Let us now muddle the issue. Microfibers, primarily bast but also wool, have been discovered in archaeological sites dating back tens of thousands of years, including 30,000-year-old Upper Paleolithic deposits in Georgia and 28,000 to 13,500 years ago in northern China. Traces of bast have been discovered in strange Natufian “boulder mortars” from around 13,000 years ago in Israel’s Rakefet Cave. The uses of these fibres and mortars are unknown.

The problem is that, unlike stone tools and even bones, textiles degrade quickly under most conditions. Rosenberg believes it is extraordinary that any of this “invisible technology” has survived the aeons.

One of the earliest examples of real McCoy fabric was found in the so-called warrior’s grave by Jericho in the late Chalcolithic or early Bronze Age. He was buried with a bow and a big piece of fabric.

Cotton could have reached Israel through trade thousands of years before the horse was domesticated, it’s not a stretch to believe. An obsidian blade from Turkey was discovered in a Neolithic settlement near Jerusalem 9,000 years ago, and other examples of ancient stuff being found where it shouldn’t abound. When asked if there is any evidence of trade between Tel Tsaf, Israel and prehistoric Pakistan, Rosenberg offers an intriguing answer: maybe.

“The only thing is beads made of olivine crystals, which we think were from Africa around 7,000 years ago. Chemical testing reveals that they are similar to olivine in Africa, but olivine also exists in Pakistan,” he says. “Perhaps we were mistaken, and the olivine came from Pakistan.” Tel Tsaf, Israel also has Turkish obsidian beads and that ancient copper artefact, the origins of which are unknown but thought to be Anatolian.

“Trade” does not have to mean merchants walking from Tel Tsaf to Anatolia or Baluchistan; artefacts can change hands over centuries before becoming lost or ending up in ruins that we marvel at discovering thousands of years later.

Massive migrations of people occurred in the late Neolithic and early Chalcolithic periods, which may have contributed to Tel Tsaf’s early prosperity hundreds of years before metals and other accoutrements of advancing civilizations arrived. It was directly on the path of long-distance communication networks in the southern Levant. Perhaps even with the Indus Valley.