The garment, known as the Tarkhan Dress, was found in an Egyptian tomb that dates back more than 5,000 years. The new results both confirm the dress’s antiquity, and also suggest that it may be even older than first thought, pre-dating the First Dynasty.
The dress catalog no. UC28614B was exquisitely stitched and pleated, and shows the complexity and wealth of the ancient society that had produced it. There are few surviving pieces of early clothing made from plant fibers or animal skins, with most textiles generally no older than 2,000 years.
Radiocarbon testing was conducted in 2015 by the University of Oxford’s radiocarbon unit, with the findings published in the journal, Antiquity. Researchers have now established that the dress was made between 3482-3102 BC with 95 percent accuracy.
The Tarkhan Dress was already thought to be Egypt’s oldest garment, and the oldest surviving woven garment in the world. However, the precise age of the dress was uncertain as the previous carbon dating proved to be too broad.
The researchers from the University of Oxford, led by Dr. Michael Dee, had measured a 2.24 mg sample of the dress to determine how much radiocarbon, a radioactive isotope of carbon, remained within the linen.
By using this method they were able to provide an indicative date for when the linen was woven. The linen from the Tarkhan Dress is especially suitable for radiocarbon dating as it is composed of flax fibers that grow over a relatively short time.
Dr. Alice Stevenson, curator at the UCL Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, said:
“The survival of highly perishable textiles in the archaeological record is exceptional, the survival of complete, or almost complete, articles of clothing like the Tarkhan Dress is even more remarkable.
“We’ve always suspected that the dress dated from the First Dynasty but haven’t been able to confirm this as the sample previously needed for testing would have caused too much damage to the dress.
“Although the result is a little less precise than is now routinely possible through radiocarbon dating, as the sample was so small, it’s clear that the linen for the dress was made at the cusp of the First Dynasty or even earlier.”
According to UCL:
“The dress itself is made from three pieces of sturdy hand-woven linen with a natural pale grey stripe with knife-pleated sleeves and bodice.
“The hem is missing so it’s not possible to know the precise length of the dress, but the dimensions indicate that it fitted a young teenager or a slim woman.
“Although the exact context of its use remain unclear, there are visible signs of wear indicating that it was worn in life.”
Watch GeoBeats News report on the dress:
The dress was originally excavated by Egyptologist Flinders Petrie in 1913, found in a First Dynasty tomb at Tarkhan, an Egyptian cemetery which is held as the most important cemetery from the time that Egypt was unified around 3000 BC.
It was Petrie who named the site after the nearby village Kafr Tuki to distinguish early finds from later material, since the cemetery continued to be used in antiquity.
Oddly enough, when Petrie excavated the pile of linen from a Dynasty 1 (c. 2800 BC) tomb in 1913, the dress was placed with various other textiles. It wasn’t until 1977 when the pile of textiles was sent to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London for conservation work that it was truly discovered.
It was then cautiously conserved, it was stitched onto Crepeline — a fine silk material used in textile conservation — and then mounted, so it could be seen the way it was worn.