World’s Oldest Dress Re-Discovered
By Emila Siwik
Could the world’s oldest dress be the coolest Archaeological discovery of 2016? Recent work by Alice Stevenson and Michael Dee shows that a dirty linen cloth excavated in 1913 by Sir Flinders Petrie is actually a dress. But not just any dress – the world’s oldest woven garment! The Tarkhan dress dates to around 3200 BC and was once worn by a female Egyptian teenager of royal descent. It was found in a First Dynasty Tomb south of Cairo and is made out of flax plants that were spun, then woven into linen. Linen was the fabric of choice in ancient Egypt; many people were wrapped in it during the mummification process and it was often given as a symbolic offering after death. The dress was tailored, meaning that it was not draped or tied to the body, but cut and fitted. It had a V-neck and pleated sleeves and bodice. Signs of wear at the elbow and armpits show that it was a beloved item worn often in life, then brought into the after world. It was placed in the tomb folded and inside out to allow the detail around the cuffs and neckline to stay intact through the years.
Dating the Dress
The dress was overlooked by archaeologists in the early 1900’s and sat in museum storage dirty and entwined with other textiles for years. It was rediscovered in 1977 when the textiles were sent for cleaning and conservation. In 2016, a small sample of the dress was sent for radiocarbon dating. This process established that the dress was older than previous estimates, and was made shortly before the First Dynasty.
Doesn’t it make you wonder what exciting finds are waiting to be discovered in the collections right here at the Sustainable Archaeology facility?
Thank you to Dr. Lisa Hodgett’s Adventures in Pop Culture Archaeology class, Western University
2007 Aspects of life in Ancient Egypt. Electronic document, http://www.reshafim.org.il/ad/egypt/timelines/topics/flax.htm
Stevenson, Alice and Dee, Michael
2016 Confirmation of the world’s oldest woven garment: the Tarkhan Dress http://antiquity.ac.uk/projgall/stevenson349
2016 See the World’s Oldest Dress. Electronic document, http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/02/160218-oldest-dress-egypt-tarkhan-archaeology/