A recent effort to clean up Nitzana National Park, in Southern Israel, has yielded an archaeological discovery. The team happened across a 1,400-year-old tombstone inscribed with the name of a Christian citizen of the Byzantine period.
A report from Haaretz explains that the inscription reads: “Blessed Maria, who lived an immaculate life.” The inscription was written in Ancient Greek and was translated by Dr. Leah Di Segni of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. The stone dated to between the 6th and 7th centuries is said to be only a part of the tombstone.
The tombstone is only the latest to have been excavated from the area. This tombstone, as well as the others discovered in the area, are believed to have belonged to Christians who lived in the village of Nitzana.Smithsonian Magazine notes that Nitzana was once a center for a number of settlements in the area. In the 6th century, it was an important stop on a trade route, as well as a popular rest point for pilgrims on their way to Santa Katarina.
Very little is known of the history of this settlement, and experts believe the tombstone will help them to learn about the transition between the Byzantine and Early Islamic periods. Pablo Betzer, the Israel Antiquities Authority Southern District archaeologist, said of the discovery:
“Unlike other ancient towns in the Negev, very little is known about the burial grounds around Nitzana. The find of any inscription such as this may improve our definition of the cemeteries’ boundaries, thus helping to reconstruct the boundaries of the settlement itself, which have not yet been ascertained.”