Object of the Week: The world's oldest woven garment from a prehistoric Egyptian tomb
Object of the Week: This week we bring you the dress recently confirmed as the world's oldest garment, at the Petrie Museum
Radiocarbon testing has dated it to the late fourth millennium BC, confirming it as the world’s oldest woven garment – 95% certain to have been made between 3482-3102 BC.
Although the dress was thought to be Egypt’s oldest garment and the oldest surviving woven garment in the world, its precise age was previously uncertain. But a team from the University of Oxford, led by Dr Michael Dee, measured a 2.24mg sample of the dress to determine how much radiocarbon - a radioactive isotope of carbon - remained in the linen.
It’s not possible to know the precise length of the dress but the dimensions suggest that it fitted a young teenager or a slim woman. Although the exact context of its use remain unclear, there are visible signs of wear.
Dr Alice Stevenson, a Curator at the UCL Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, where it is on display, says the survival of the dress is “even more remarkable” than the “exceptional” record of these kind of perishable textiles.
“We’ve always suspected that the dress dated from the First Dynasty but haven’t been able to confirm this,” she explains.
“The sample previously needed for testing would have caused too much damage to the dress.
“The result is a little less precise than is now routinely possible through radiocarbon dating, as the sample was so small. It’s clear that the linen for the dress was made at the cusp of the First Dynasty or even earlier.”