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Indigo is thought to be the oldest dye. It was found in mummy cloths over 5,000 years old and in the garments of Tutankhamen. Indigo was mentioned in the histories of Herodotus (circa 450 B.C.) and was a valued 'spice' carried back to Europe during the

Chinese villager preparing an indigo paste.Taken from Indigo by Jenny Balfour-Paul
At one time, because the colour was associated with power and divinity only exalted persons in Africa, the Middle East, South America, China, Japan and Indonesia could wear blue garments. The Egyptians reserved indigo blue for royalty and the daughters of the Pharohs painted their breasts blue and gold.

In India, the true colour of the sun as god of life and procreation was blue. Krishna, the best loved divinity of Hinduism and the god of love is usually depicted blue,

The nobility of ancient Guatemala denoted their position by wearing blue and the mighty Odin, of the Nordic sagas always dressed in blue.

For centuries European dyers used the woad plant to achieve blues and woad growers fought the influx of the cheaper, deeper blue dye. In 1598, Indigo was prohibited in France and parts of Germany, and dyers had to swear, often, on the pain of death that they would not use indigo.

By the 17th century indigo was a chief trade article of both the Dutch and British East India companies. In 1744, indigo arrived in South Carolina from which it travelled to other states including New York.

In 1883 Adolph von Baeyer synthesized the indigo molecule and by the early 1900's, the market for natural indigo collapsed.

Indigo dye can be purchased in both its natural and synthetic forms and is still popular in the dyers garden. It's primary uses are in cosmetics as a laboratory indicator, and as a dye that makes blue-jeans blue.