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by Archaeology Newsroom

Detection and Identification of Natural Textile Dyes

An effort is made in this article for the detection and identification of historic textile dyes that were used in the Helladic region. Dyes have already been used before the means covering basic human needs were invented, and the art of spinning and weaving were created. The first yarns appear around 9,000 BC, while the invention of the loom seems to date from around 7,000 BC.

Basic dyeing procedures were unknown in western and northern Europe, as opposed to central and south Asia, the Middle East, the Caucasus area, Egypt, Asia Minor and Greece, where basic dyeing techniques were already used in early years. The prehistoric inhabitants of the Aegean, especially the Minoans, were capable of dyeing various natural materials, particularly the wool. Wall-paintings on the island of Crete, the “crocus collector” in the Akrotiri on Thera, the “Mycenaean” lady in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, illustrate the favorite costumes and dyes of the period, among which the red, yellow, orange and blue colour prevails.

Only a few natural historic dyes are in use today, a rather strange phenomenon, considering that only natural dyes existed just one hundred years ago.

The article also presents a classification, in alphabetical order, of the plans yielding the main dyes which have been in use from antiquity until about one hundred years ago in the Mediterranean basin. In addition, the historical and geographical identity of the plant is pictured, and the relevant information is completed with the basic dyeing-stuff, supplied by each plant, which is responsible for the final colouring.