While archaeologists have uncovered ceramic fragments and tools dating back tens of thousands of years, clothing is another story. Since most garments are made of delicate materials like linen and wool, ancient clothing finds are extremely rare—which is what makes the Tarkhan dress so unique.

According to recent radiocarbon dating tests, the Tarkhan dress is between 5100 and 5500 years old, making it the oldest dress ever found. The dress comes from the so-called Tarkhan excavations conducted in the early 1900s in Egypt about 30 miles south of Cairo. According to the study in Antiquity, the dress was buried in a tomb for thousands of years, and came quite close to never being discovered at all. While the main Tarkhan excavations occurred from 1912 to 1913, the dress was overlooked and lumped with a pile of rags. It was found more than six decades later, in 1977, when a bundle of miscellaneous textiles were sent to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London for conservation.

The dress would have been worn by a member of the Egyptian upper class, and, although it came from an Egyptian tomb, it was originally created for the living, not the dead; it shows signs of wear.

It's not the only example of an ancient garment, but it is the only one to have been "cut, fitted, and tailored," the researchers write.

“A handful of garments of similar age have survived to the present day, but those were simply wrapped or draped around the body,” explains National Geographic. “The Tarkhan dress, on the other hand, is ancient haute couture.” 

 

UCL Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology

[h/t National Geographic]