Scholar finds ancient scarlet dye

The insect that produces the dye, tola'at hashani, is mentioned in the Bible, but until now scholars had been unable to locate it here. They had come to the conclusion that it was imported from abroad in ancient times, Amar said.

He said it took three or four years, and many disappointments, to find the scaly insect which actually produced the dye, whose color is actually closer to orange than the modern crimson.

Amar and his student, Zvi Tamari, identified the different types of crimson coccid in Israel, an investigation that ultimately led to the identification of the long-sought Kermes oak coccid and the production of the scarlet pigment from it. He and his student, Zvi Tamari, examined many insects only to reject them.

"The problem was that this one is very small, and the dye comes from the female with her eggs, a situation which is to be found for only two weeks a year. If you took the insect now, for example, you wouldn't get the dye," Amar said.

He added that he learned to produce the dye from medieval manuscripts, mainly in Arabic.

Amar, who announced his findings at the eighth annual conference "Discoveries in the Study of Jerusalem," sponsored by the university's Rennert Center for Jerusalem Studies, found the insect at Neveh Tzuf, northwest of Ramallah.