The incredible story behind the world’s oldest dress from Egypt that’s more than 5,000 years old

August 9, 2023

Experts discovered the Tarkhan robe in 1977 within a collection of trash at the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology in London.

Clothing from tens of thousands of years ago is still in use today. Those garments were merely wrapped around the body. But, the “Tarkhan Dress,” so named for the Egyptian town where it was discovered in 1913, has exquisite stitching. It was precisely dated using the most recent radiocarbon dating equipment around five years ago. The world’s oldest woven clothing is a finely detailed linen outfit that, according to research, dates to between 3482 and 3103 B.C.

The incredible story behind the world’s oldest dress from Egypt that’s more than 5,000 years old 1
The world’s oldest woven garment found in Egypt. © Petrie Museum Of Egyptian Archaeology, University College London

According to Alice Stevenson, curator of London’s Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, textiles discovered at archaeological sites are often no older than 2,000 years. But, the Tarkhan Dress is older than 5,000 years and may have been longer when it was new, according to scholars.

It was once part of a “large pile of dirty linen cloth” excavated by Sir Flinders Petrie in 1913 at the site he named Tarkhan after a nearby village 30 miles south of Cairo, archaeology.org said.

In 1977, researchers from the Victoria and Albert Museum were preparing to clean a large pile of dirty linen cloth when they discovered the Tarkhan Dress, finely made.

Though there were creases at the elbows and armpits showing that someone once wore the dress, the V-neck linen shirt with pleated sleeves and bodice was in excellent condition despite its age.

The incredible story behind the world’s oldest dress from Egypt that’s more than 5,000 years old 2
The world’s oldest woven garment found in Egypt. © Wikimedia Commons

The researchers conserved the fabric, sewed it onto Crepeline silk to stabilize it and displayed it. Soon, it was being hailed as Egypt’s oldest garment and the oldest woven garment in the world largely due to the age of the tomb in which it was discovered. However, because the tomb in which the garment had been found had been plundered, researchers couldn’t provide a precise age for the dress.

When the dress’s linen was examined in the 1980s using a cutting-edge technique called accelerator mass spectrometry, it was thought to date to the late third millennium BC. But scholars said that this date was too general.

Ultimately, in 2015, the University of Oxford’s radiocarbon team examined a sample from the clothing itself that only weighed 2.24mg. The Tarkhan Dress is believed to date from about 3482 and 3102 B.C., possibly even earlier than Egypt’s First Dynasty (ca. 3111–2906 B.C.).