Archaeologists Discovered Evidence Of A 3,600-Year-Old Ancient Purple Dye Workshop On A Greek Island

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On a Greek island, evidence of an ancient workshop where a special purple dye was produced around 3,600 years ago was found by archaeologists. They conducted excavations in the archaeological site of Kolonna, which is located on the island of Aegina.

Excavations revealed the remains of two buildings dating back to the 16th century B.C. The buildings had collapsed on top of each other. It is believed that the older structure was a place where purple dye was made in the Late Bronze Age. During this time, colored dyes were a highly sought-after product in the Mediterranean region.

Purple dyes were made from the mucous secretions of a species of predatory marine snails that lived in the region. Evidence of the production of purple dye comes from crushed marine snail shells at several archaeological sites.

“To obtain the desired dye, the hypobranchial glands of the snails, either extracted by opening the shell or as a component of the fully crushed mollusk body, were mixed with some salt water and left steeping for a few days in suitable containers, vats, or vessels,” wrote the authors of the study.

Ancient Romans chose storage containers based on the oxygen and light supply they received, which contributed to how the color’s shade turned out. The ancient workshop was one of the centers of production for the purple dye.

Researchers confirmed the existence of the workshop from the fragments of pottery with traces of the purple pigment. The pottery pieces were most likely containers for storing the dye.

They also uncovered tools, such as grinding stones and crushed snail shells. It is rare for residues of the purple pigment to be preserved on the insides of vessels or on other materials.

The researchers analyzed the shells and the chemical composition of the dye. They concluded that the workshop primarily used one marine snail species called the banded dye-murex to make the dye. The marine snail is scientifically known as Hexaplex trunculus and is found throughout the Mediterranean.

There are two other main species that were occasionally used to create the dye—the spiny dye-murex (Bolinus brandaris) and the red-mouthed rock shell (Stramonita haemastoma).

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