Inscribed in Greek, the stone was found in the Nizzana National Park
Archaeologists generally do quite a bit of planning, choosing dig sites, and working meticulously in the hopes of making a meaningful discovery. Most advances emerge from this process. But every so often, there is a lucky find. The Byzantine tombstone, announced by the Israel Antiquities Authority on January 6, 2021, was one of the latter.
A worker preparing nature paths in the Nizzana nature park found a stone and put it at the head of the trail. Nizzana Educational Village Director, David Palmach, saw the stone and noticed that it was inscribed in ancient Greek. It is a flat, round stone, approximately 10 inches in diameter. The inscription has been translated by Dr. Leah Di Segni of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. It reads: “Blessed Maria, who lived an immaculate life” and indicates she died on February 9th. The tombstone was dated to the late sixth or early seventh century C.E.
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As Tali Erickson-Gini of IAA explains, “Nizzana acted as a center for the villages and settlements in the vicinity. Among other things, it had a military fortress as well as churches, a monastery, and a road station that served Christian pilgrims traveling to Santa Katarina, which believers regarded as the site of Mount Sinai.” Santa Katarina is about 50 miles away from Nizzana.
Archaeologists are confident that the tombstone will help advance understanding of the burial grounds around Nizzana. It may even be an aid to finding the cemeteries’ borders, which could lead to figuring out the boundaries of the settlement itself.
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