Ships in the Desert

November 9, 2018

by: Edgar Asher

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An archaeological dig in Beersheva has uncovered an ancient cistern.

Friday, 9 November 2018 | During an archaeological excavation being carried out by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) in Beersheva as part of preparation work for the construction of the city’s future neighborhood of Rakafot, engravings of ships and zoomorphs (animal forms) were discovered.

During preliminary work at the new neighborhood, a Roman period cistern was discovered. At first, the cistern, roughly 5 x 5.5 meters and 12 meters deep, looked like a large depression. After initial clearing, a well hewn and plastered staircase leading into the depth of the cistern was exposed.

The IAA excavators, Dr. Davida Eisenberg-Degen and Avishay Levi-Hevroni, recognized thinly engraved lines in the plaster covering the cistern walls. Though many of the engraved lines had become less visible over time, it became apparent that boats, a sailor and zoomorphs were depicted. Thirteen ships in all were engraved in the plaster of the walls of the cistern.

According to Dr. Davida Eisenberg-Degen, a specialist in rock art and graffiti at the IAA, the ships include technical details and present proportions which suggest actual knowledge in ship construction. The shape and form of the cistern and the technique of hewing and plastering suggest that the cistern was from the first–second century [AD] and likely served the residence of a Roman period site situated some 800 meters away.   This site had recently been excavated by Dr. Fabian and Dr. Cohen-Sason of Ben Gurion University of the Negev.

Though the cistern was found filled with sediments, it was apparent that the cistern was maintained, cleaned and in use until recently. The sediment fill included a number of ceramic sherds, ammunition shells and parts of weapons all dating to the First World War.

Posted on November 9, 2018

Source: (Ashernet originally published this article on November 7, 2018. Time-related language has been modified to reflect our publication today.)

Photo Credit: Ashernet/IAA