5,000 year old Egyptian garment confirmed as world’s oldest dress

By Daily Mail

An ancient bundle of rags discovered in an Egyptian tomb more than a century ago actually contained the world’s oldest dress – but it wasn’t spotted for almost 65 years after excavation.

In 1977, researchers uncovered a ‘curious,’ pleated V-neck shirt among the dirty linens, a portion of what was once likely a floor-length Tarkhan dress.

Now, radiocarbon dating has confirmed that this article is the oldest known woven garment in the world, dating back between 5,100 and 5,500 years.

The ancient linen dress is made of materials from the beginning of the First Dynasty, or possibly earlier, during the Naqada III period.

Radiocarbon dating conducted in 2015 by the University of Oxford puts its origins at 3482-3102 BC, based on a sample of the intact garment.

With pleated sleeves and bodice, the Tarkhan Dress is the earliest example of clothing that was individually tailored.

Other early historical garments uncovered by archaeologists were draped or wrapped upon the body, but this one is cut and fitted.

In a paper published to the journal Antiquity, authors Alice Stevenson, curator of the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology and Michael W. Dee, of the Research Laboratory for Archaeology and the History of Art explain the rarity of such a find.

‘The survival of highly perishable textiles in the archaeological record is exceptional; the survival of complete, or almost complete, articles of clothing even more so,’ the authors write.

Signs of wear on the dress suggest it was used in life, and though the context is not certain, researchers say it was likely from a wealthy figure.

And, though it now appears to be a shirt, similar floor-length garments from later dates suggest it was once much longer, the researchers explained to National Geographic.

An excavation led by W.M. Flinders Petrie at Tarkhan, an ancient cemetery roughly 31 miles south of Cairo, first took note of a ‘great pile of linen cloth’ in 1912-1913.

But, the original team never noticed the ancient garment lying within the dirty bundle.

Decades later, in 1977, the linens were sent to the Victoria and Albert Museum for conservation, where the garment was discovered lying among 17 different types of textiles.

Linen textiles are made up of flax fibres, the researchers explain, which grow over a short period of time and are suitable for radiocarbon dating.

As the dress had remained intact, researchers determined that the materials had likely only been used for this piece, and were not recycled.

The process, however, was not without challenges.

To tackle potential contamination, including oils or resins from age, or glues and preservatives from conservation, the sample was exposed to organic solvents –acetone, methanol, and chloroform – at room temperature.


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