A tombstone of a Christian woman who lived in the 6th or 7th century CE was recently discovered at a national park in the Negev desert, after a park worker accidentally stumbled upon it.
The stone, found at Nitzana National Park, features Greek writing and belongs to a woman named Maria. It says she died on 9 February.
The rare find was made by chance by an employee of the Parks and Nature Authority along one of the park’s trails.
Leah Di Segni of Hebrew University deciphered it. The stone declares that “Blessed Maria, who lived an immaculate life,” died on February 9th. It has been dated to some 1,400 years ago.
“Nitzana is renowned as a key site in research into the transition between the Byzantine and the Early Islamic periods,” Tali Erickson-Gini of the Israel Antiquities Authority said.
“During the fifth and sixth centuries CE, Nitzana 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.”
She added that Nitzana served as a Nabatean road stop on a key trade route as far back as the 3rd century BCE. By the 10th century CE the site was abandoned.
“Unlike other ancient towns in the Negev, very little is known about the burial grounds around Nitzana,” Antiquities Authority Southern District archaeologist Pablo Betzer said. “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.”