The World's Oldest Blue Dyed Fabric

The World's Oldest Blue Dyed Fabric

Image Credit: Lauren Urana

A new paper from a team of researchers has identified a piece of dyed cotton from Huaca, Peru, as the world’s oldest textile to feature an indigo blue dye, similar to that found in denim apparel today. The textile has been dated as 6,200-years-old and was manufactured some 1,500 years earlier than the first written records of the use of indigo blue dye. 

The paper, Early Pre-Hispanic Use of Indigo Blue in Peru, was written by a team of researchers from George Washington University lead by Dr. Jeffrey C. Splitstoser and published in the Science Advances journal. Dr. Splitstoser, an assistant research professor of anthropology at George Washington University, discussed the significance of the findings in a press release from the university:

“Some of the world’s most significant technological achievements were developed first in the New World. Many people, however, remain mostly unaware of the important technological contributions made by Native Americans, perhaps because so many of these technologies were replaced by European systems during the conquest. However, the fine fibers and sophisticated dyeing, spinning and weaving practices developed by ancient South Americans were quickly co-opted by Europeans.”

The discovery is confirmation of an advanced textile technology used by the ancient Andean people of the area, and is 1,500-years-older than the first written evidence of people using indigo blue dye, which originates from the Middle East 4,400 years ago. The cotton used by the Andean people in their fabrics, Gossypium barbadense, is known today as Egyptian cotton, while indigo-blue dye has played an important part in the development of textiles and fashion.

The textile in question was discovered during an excavation at Huaca Prieta, a prehistoric settlement site located on the north coast of Peru in 2009. Experts believe the site once housed a temple where offerings including textiles were presented to the gods.

The textile is now part of the Cao Museum collection in Peru.

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