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What can trash mounds tell us about the hitherto little known artery of the Israeli Silk Road, which was used by caravans laden with spices and precious textiles around 1,300 years ago?

With our project, we want to show that one (ancient) man’s trash can indeed be a modernarchaeologist’s and historian’s treasure. In Nahal Omer, the village that this project will investigate, in the very dry Negev desert in modern-day Israel, materials that would usually perish in humid climates are excellently preserved. This is why the excavators have found exotic textiles like silks and cottons, whose ikat patterns point to their production in Yemen or even India and which had probably come a long way before being finally discarded in Nahal Omer.

Using the newest scientific methods, we will trace the distant places from which these textiles had arrived. Since textiles usually do not take up much space, they were probably often part of cargo loads that included various other goods. In the course of the project, the analyses of organic finds in the dumps at Nahal Omer, especially with regard to items that were imported, will be compared with textual sources in order to uncover continuities as well as to construct hypotheses regarding possible changes in trading and consumption patterns over time. We will then compare our results with ancient texts and pictures of textiles and clothing as well as other archaeological textile finds.

Through this combination of different academic disciplines, we expect to shed light on this little known artery of the “Israeli Silk Road”, and on the people who lived there and the goods that they traded, used – and discarded.


Pictures (clockwise): Uncleaned textiles from Nahal Omer excavations; textile materials in situ at the site; cotton textile with blue and undyed cream checkered pattern after conservation.

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