The Nash Family Foundation Ancient Textiles Study Collection (in Honor of Leon Levy and Shelby White) will include a wealth of textiles, basketry, cordage and leather artifacts that were preserved by the arid climate conditions and discovered in excavations in sites located mainly in the Negev, Arava and Judean Deserts. These precious and delicate artifacts represent a remarkable variety of materials, production techniques, and geographic origin of raw materials, reflecting social, population and economic changes over thousands of years, changing fashions, as well as differences among various sites during the same period and during different periods. Thousands of artifacts, dating from 7000 BCE until 1500 CE, are treated at the Israel Antiquities Authority's laboratories and preserved in a special humidity and temperature environment. The oldest are from the Neolithic period of Nahal Hemar, dating some 9,000 years ago. Textiles from the Chalcolithic Period, 4th millennium BCE, were discovered in the Judean Desert in sites such as the Cave of the Treasure and the Cave of the Warrior (the exquisite 23 foot linen wrapping sheet that was discovered in the cave was exhibited in the American Museum of Natural History in 1998).
Basket from Qumran
Linen cloth from Qumran
Ropes from Qumran
The largest and most important collection of textiles contains thousands of Roman period pieces discovered in Qumran, Masada and the Cave of Letters in the Judean Desert. Included are wool and linen garments of Jewish men, women and children - colored tunics decorated with bands descending from the neck opening, mantles and head coverings. Even a tzitzit was preserved in the Cave of Letters. Textile containers including scroll wrapper, jar covers, sacks, purses and shrouds were also found at these sites, as well as sandals, baskets of different shapes and sizes and leather Tefillin. Wood spindle whorls and bundles of threads indicate that some of the spinning and weaving were done in-situ. Silk and cotton were introduced to the region during the Byzantine period, and the collections include hundreds of silk and cotton textiles that were discovered mainly along the Spice Route that connected Nabatean Petra and Gaza.
Additional materials and techniques were introduced during the Early Islamic period. Most significant are cotton fragments from India decorated in the warp ikat technique, representing the earliest documented occurrence of this type of fabric in an archaeological site. They are colored in blue, brown, reddish-brown, tan, and red, or a combination of these colors.