Indigo Dye Found on 6,200-Year-Old Fabric in Peru

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September 18, 2016

Archaeologists have found indigo-dyed fabric in Peru that dates to 6,200 years ago. It is the oldest known use of the blue coloring on fabric yet found.

The indigo was applied to woven cotton, of which fragments remain today. The archaeologists found the fragments in bundles along a ramp that led to an ancient temple at Huaca Prieta, a prehistoric site north of what is now the Peruvian city of Trujillo. Residents built the temple on top of a living space, and subsequent generations updated the construction, so that the archaeologists found many layers of remains.

Ash and sand were used in the building of the temple, and so the cotton fragments showed signs of staining. Archaeologists carefully washed some of the fragments and used high-definition liquid chromatography to determine that the dye used on the fragments was indigo. The fragments date to between 4,000 years ago and 6,200 years ago.

The earliest previously known fabric to contain indigo dye was found in Egypt and dated to 4,400 years ago. Writings in other Middle Eastern lands mention the dye as far back as 5,000 years ago.

The Huaca Prieta fragments included indigo-dyed yarn, off-white cotton, and bright-white thread crafted from milkweed, which was not at all a common textile in South America at that time.

A report of the findings appeared in the latest Science Advances.

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