BIBLE HISTORY DAILY

School Trip Results in Chance Find

Student discovers ancient lamp during lunch stop

While on a field trip to the Scorpions’ Ascent in southern Israel, a 16-year-old high school student happened upon a fortuitous discovery: a small oil lamp among the surface debris near their lunch stop at the Roman fort of Metzad Tzafir. The lamp was likely made at the site of Petra in southern Jordan and dates to the fourth or fifth century CE.
 

1,600-year-old lamp found at Metzad Tzafir in the area known as the Scorpions’ Ascent. Yoli Schwartz, IAA

1,600-year-old lamp found at Metzad Tzafir in the area known as the Scorpions’ Ascent. Yoli Schwartz, IAA.

Keeping the Fort Alight

The Scorpions’ Ascent, or Maale Akrabbim in Hebrew, is mentioned twice in the Bible (Numbers 34:4 and Joshua 15:3; the reference in Judges 1:36 is to a different location with the same name). Reputed to have an abundance of scorpions, it is a ridgeline south of the Dead Sea where a pass permits ascent from the rift valley up to the Negev Desert to the south.

Through this region, trade routes once connected the important Roman-Nabatean trading center of Mamshit, to the northwest, with the copper mines at Wadi Faynan (biblical Punon) in southern Jordan. To protect these trade routes, several forts were built—including Metzad Tzafir, the Roman fort where the lamp was discovered.

When his high school class stopped there for lunch, student Yonatan Frankel began sifting through rocks around him in the sand. “One of the stones I picked up was full of dirt,” he said. “I shook it off, and suddenly I saw a design. Then, I understood that this was a man-made object and not just a stone.”


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The lamp, which measures just a few inches across, is believed to have been made in Petra, the ancient Nabatean capital in southern Jordan, in the fourth or fifth century CE. It is similar to lamps found there, as well as at other locations in the general vicinity of the Scorpions’ Ascent. “Lamps of this type were uncovered at Metzad Hatzeva, and also at Mamshit, Metzad Yotvata, and Petra,” said Tali Erickson-Gini, senior researcher with the Israel Antiquities Authority. She also remarked that renowned archaeologist Nelson Glueck discovered a nearly identical lamp at this very spot 90 years ago.

Eli Escusido, Director-General of the Israel Antiquities Authority, thanked Frankel for his discovery and for handing the lamp over to experts. “Every object that is turned over to us can shed significant light (as is indeed the case here) about our past,” he said.

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Related reading in Bible History Daily:

 

First Person: Life Was Not So Bad for Smelters

OnSite: Petra

Solving the Enigma of Petra and the Nabataeans


 

All-Access members, read more in the BAS Library:


The Petra Scrolls: Publication of Papyri a Legal Obligation

When People Lived at Petra

Not a BAS Library or All-Access Member yet? Join today.
 

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