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February 16, 2017 2:35 am

Ancient Shell Uncovered on Temple Mount Believed to Be From Sea Snail That Produced Blue Dye for Religious Garments

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The branded dye-murex shell discovered through the Temple Mount Sifting Project. Photo: Jennifer Green/Ir David Foundation.

The branded dye-murex shell discovered through the Temple Mount Sifting Project. Photo: Jennifer Green/Ir David Foundation.

JNS.org – An ancient shell discovered on the Temple Mount is believed to be from the sea snail used to produce the vibrant blue dye that colored the fringes of religious garments in ancient Judea.

The branded dye-murex (Hexaplex trunculus) snail was prized in the “luxury dye industry of ancient times,” archaeologist Zachi Dvira said, as well as for the unique blue, or “tchelet,” it produced that was needed to dye tzizit, a Jewish ritual fringed garment.

Dvira said the rabbinical sages had deemed the species kosher (snails in general are not) so that the dye made from its mucus secretion could be used for this religious purpose.

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“Dye industry equipment and fragments of snail shells have been discovered at Phoenician sites along the Mediterranean coast,” she said, adding that it is rare to find these shells so far inland

“We find conical shells and seashells during sifting. Some were apparently used for food, which was a favorite of Byzantine monks. Certain seashells were used as beads or pendants, and others were used to cover walls or floors in the time of the First Temple. In the case of the branded dye-murex, we still haven’t conducted a thorough study of the distribution of this kind of find around the Mount, but it seems that dyeing facilities and shells of this type have been found at other sites in the center of Israel, too,” Dvira said.

Archaeologists have started researching whether there was ever a dyeing facility on the Temple Mount itself.

The find was made as part of the Temple Mount Sifting Project, which is underway in the Emek Tzurim National Park. The project is funded by the Ir David Foundation and directed by archaeologists from Bar-Ilan University.

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