New tests show that a linen dress found in an Egyptian tomb dates back more than 5,000 years, making it the oldest woven garment yet found. Beautifully stitched and pleated, it signals the complexity and wealth of the ancient society that produced it.
The garment, known as the Tarkhan dress, is a find of surpassing rarity. Few pieces of early clothing, which was made from plant fibers or animal skins, escaped disintegration. Textiles recovered from archaeological sites are generally no older than 2,000 years, says Alice Stevenson, curator of London’s Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology and an author of a new study in the journal Antiquity about the dress’s age.
A handful of garments of similar age have survived to the present day, but those were simply wrapped or draped around the body. The Tarkhan dress, on the other hand, is ancient haute couture. With its tailored sleeves, V-neck, and narrow pleats, it would look perfectly at home in a modern department store.
Creases at the elbows and armpits also hint that someone once wore the dress; it wasn’t just ceremonial.