The discoveries, reported in the journal Antiquity, provide a glimpse of what early life was like in both ancient Egypt and southern France thousands of years ago. The garment, which dates to around 3482 B.C., is known as the “Tarkhan Dress,” and now looks like a tattered and stained shirt. When new, however, the linen dress would have looked fashionable even today, as researchers determined it featured a natural pale grey stripe with knife-pleated sleeves and bodice. Its hem is missing, so the original length of the dress is unknown.
“The survival of highly perishable textiles in the archaeological record is exceptional, the survival of complete, or almost complete, articles of clothing like the Tarkhan Dress is even more remarkable,” Alice Stevenson, curator of the University College London (UCL) Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, said in a press release.
“We’ve always suspected that the dress dated from the First Dynasty, but haven’t been able to confirm this as the sample previously needed for testing would have caused too much damage to the dress,” she added.
Now that the dress’ age has been confirmed, it has been named Egypt’s oldest garment and is the oldest known surviving woven garment in the world.
To calculate its age, Michael Dee of the University of Oxford and colleagues measured a small sample of the dress to determine how much radiocarbon (a radioactive isotope of carbon) remained in the linen. Linen is especially suitable for radiocarbon dating, according to the researchers, because it is composed of flax fibers that grow over a relatively short time.
The dress, currently on display at the UCL Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, features wear and tear that date back to its earliest days. The researchers believe that a young teenager or a very slim woman wore it.
“Not only is the tavern the earliest of its kind in the region, it also serves as an invaluable indicator of the changing social and economic infrastructure of the settlement and its inhabitants following the Roman conquest of Mediterranean Gaul in the late second century B.C.,” wrote co-authors Benjamin Luley of Gettysburg College and Gaël Piquès of Montpellier University.
At first the researchers thought that they had found a bakery, since they determined that the site once featured three huge ovens and indoor gristmills. They later, however, found that another nearby room, across from a courtyard, had benches lining its walls.
Bones from fish, sheep and cattle were also unearthed, as were the remains of big platters and bowls. The meat was probably cooked BBQ-style over a charcoal-burning hearth, which was also found at the site.
Most prevalent, however, were shards from ceramic drinking vessels. Since the tavern dates to France’s Roman period, the researchers believe that this was a typical — albeit very well equipped — Roman-style tavern with what must have had an extensive menu on offer. Such roadhouses were common along well-traveled routes.
Wine was the drink of choice in the region, then and now, and plenty of it appears to have been served at the tavern, which would have been quite a popular spot in the scenic area circa 125 B.C.