Purple extraction to extinction?

Antique center for the production of the luxury color purple reveals mystery

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The colorant purple was already highly sought after in antiquity and was obtained from the natural stocks of the purple snail. Scientists have now been able to prove that they were already exploited in late Roman times by means of massive deposits of shredded snails. For the low age of death indicates an overuse of the natural snail populations - possibly the color producers have robbed themselves of their resources.

In Andriake, the old port city of Myra in Turkey, in the summer of 2003 conspicuously many shell fragments of purple snails were found, suggesting that there was a production site of purple color there. Scientists from the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna (VUW) and the Austrian Academy of Sciences are now investigating and reporting on their surprising results in the Journal for Archeology.

Remains of 60 million snails

Accordingly, Andriake was an important place of purple production in the sixth century AD. The on-site measurements suggest that the shale deposits amount to 300 cubic meters. If one extrapolates this to individual individuals on the basis of the shell fragments found, one arrives at an almost unbelievably huge number: "Even after cautious estimates, we come to about 60 million snails, which were processed at this production site, " summarizes Prof. Gerhard Forstenpointner. "This high number of purple snail fragments makes the site in Andriake one of the most important production sites of antiquity."

Decline of the production site due to overfishing?

Another striking feature of the examined samples is the small size and thus the low age of the processed snails. "In the upper deposit layers, only about ten percent of the fragments found come from adult snails, " Dr. Alfred Galik and dr. Gerald Weissengruber. "This indicates that the age distribution within the heavily fished population shifted and the number of purple snails decreased. Finally, there is also the question of whether the further exploitation has not even led to the collapse of the snail stocks and thus to the decline of the purple production in or around Andriake. "Display

Luxury good purple

Purple is hardly used as a dye today, but it was (and is) one of the most expensive dyes in the world. It is extracted from a gland (hence the crushing!) Of the sea snails Brandhorn (Murex brandaris), purple snail (Hexaplex trunculus) and Rotmund groin snail (Thais haemastoma), whereby for one gram color thousands of snails must be processed. The wearing of purple clothes was a sign of high rank and temporarily reserved exclusively for senators and Caesars.

(Veterinary University Vienna, 08.05.2007 - AHE)