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1,700-Year-Old Inscription Discovered

May 7, 2019

by: Edgar Asher

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A 1,700-year-old Greek inscription referring to the city of Elusa (Hebrew: Halutza) has been discovered in archaeological excavations at Halutza National Park in the Negev.

The stone inscription is currently being studied by Prof. Leah Di Segni from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The name of the city of Elusa appears in several historical documents, including the Madaba Mosaic Map and the Nessana Papyri. However, this is the first time that the name of the city has been discovered at the site itself. The inscription mentions several Caesars of the Tetrarchy, which allows archaeologists to date it at around AD 300.

In the recent excavation season, a bathhouse and Byzantine church were also uncovered. The 131-foot-long [40-meter-long], three-aisled church contained an eastward apse whose vault was originally decorated with a glass mosaic. Its nave was decorated with marble. The bathhouse is a large, urban complex containing part of the furnace and caldarium (hot room).

Elusa was founded at the end of the fourth century BC as an important station along the Incense Road, the ancient trade route between Petra and Gaza. The city continued to develop, reaching its peak in the Byzantine period in the fourth to the mid-sixth centuries AD. In that period, it had tens of thousands of inhabitants and was the only city in the Negev.

Researchers have succeeded in reconstructing the plan of the city and identifying its streets, which were often accompanied by porticoes and blocks of buildings. There were also nine churches, a huge peristyle building, possibly a market building and at least three pottery workshops.

According to Dr. Tali Erickson-Gini on behalf of the IAA [Israel Antiquities Authority], “The export of high-quality wine from the Negev Highlands in the Byzantine period was responsible for economic prosperity that affected the entire region. Elusa was an important station on the route used by Christian pilgrims on their way to and from Santa Katarina in southern Sinai…Much of the site is still hidden under the sand.”

Source: Excerpt from an article by Edgar Asher, Ashernet

Photo Credit: Ashernet

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