Archaeologists have recently discovered a remarkably well-preserved child’s nightgown complete with unusual “knots” that is estimated to be about 1,900 years old. The garment was found in the famous Cave of Letters in Israel, which has previously yielded other important archaeological finds that provide insights into Jewish history.
The Cave of Letters was first discovered in the early 1960s by an Israeli archaeologist called Yigael Yadin. The site is located in the Judean desert, near the Dead Sea, and is about 15 meters (50 feet) up on the cliff face – so it is far from easy to access.
In the past, archaeologists have discovered artifacts, such as letters and fragments of papyri, that date to the Bar Kochba revolt, a famous Jewish uprising against the Roman empire that took place in the years between 132 and 136 CE. It was the third and final uprising of its kind and resulted in the complete defeat of the Jewish fighters. Now, archaeologists have discovered a piece of child’s clothing that dates to the same period.
Although textiles have been discovered in various sites across the country, there is something perplexing about specimens recovered from the Cave of Letters. It seems that these textiles tend to have strange “knots” that do not appear anywhere else.
“The knots are like small pendants at the bottom of the garment, created by tying part of the fabric around substances known for their protective qualities: resin, salt, iron sulfate, asphalt, henna, seeds, and other unidentified materials,” said Dr Orit Shamir, Israel Antiquities Authority textile specialist, in a statement posted to Facebook.
“The binding was done by winding a flax thread around the material several times.”
It is likely the garment was made for a child, given its size, and it has knots along its hem. It is made from two pieces of cloth that were sewn together along their upper edges, leaving a space for the owner to poke their head through.
According to the statement, it was probably worn under a decorative upper garment made of colorful wool.
“If we examine the fabric from which the tunic was made,” said Dr Shamir, “we'll find that the thickness and density of the threads are not uniform. The weaving was simple, manufactured according to a simple twining technique, and occasionally mistakes were made. The sewing up of the garment is also not meticulous, and the garment has several holes, some of which resulted from wear and tear.”
As the nightgown was made for a child, it is likely the knots were hung on it as a form of protection, to ward the child from harm and illness.
“You can really imagine a mother hiding salt for protection and tying up a piece of the flax garment while reciting prayers and hopes for her son or daughter,” Dr Shamir added.