Ancient Shellfish Used for Purple Dye Disappeared From Eastern Mediterranean Sea

MUGLA, TURKEY: A sea squid (L) and white coral (R), two species under protection in Turkey, are seen in the Mediterranean off the coast of Fethiye 11 March 2005. AFP PHOTO / TARIK TINAZAY (Photo credit should read TARIK TINAZAY/AFP/Getty Images)
TARIK TINAZAY/AFP/Getty

The Guardian reports: The shellfish that was one of the main sources of Tyrian purple – one of the most storied and valuable trading products in the ancient world – has disappeared from the eastern Mediterranean coast, amid warnings of an ongoing multi-species collapse blamed on global rises in sea temperatures.

Described by Aristotle and Pliny among other ancient writers, Tyrian purple or imperial purple was a dye extracted from shellfish along the Levant coast and favoured by emperors and kings in a trade of huge value. Associated with royalty, clothes with purple in them were believed to convey high status.

A new Israeli survey of shallow water Mediterranean habitats has noted the almost total disappearance of stramonita haemastoma – the red-mouthed rock shell – which was one of the two main sources of the dyes.

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