Salvage excavations of a 14th century Mamluk roadside inn near the IDF’s Nafah army base have unveiled the first Roman border stone found in the central Golan with a place name that is known and identified today. The 1,700-year-old Greek inscription reads, “A border stone between Amatiya [or Amatira] and Kfar Nafah,” said Israel Antiquities Authority excavation co-director Yardenna Alexandre in conversation with The Times of Israel.
“We have several stones [in the Golan] with names of places we don’t know,” said Alexandre. Having a securely named site listed on a border stone could serve, she said, “like an anchor for working on the other stones which have been found… It will help us in the historical/geographical reconstruction of the settlement over the centuries.”
According to the IAA press release, under the reign of the Roman Emperor Diocletian circa 300 CE, these inscribed stones were placed at the boundaries of villages — not necessarily on main roads — for the purpose of demarcating areas for collecting taxes.
The Kfar Nafah Roman border stone was discovered in secondary use as a circa 5th century Byzantine grave cover, which was unearthed under a previously unknown 14th century Mamluk roadside inn, said Alexandre.
A small roadside inn at Kfar Nafah — located halfway on the main imperial Roman road between the central station at Quneitra and the Bnot Ya’akov bridge that fords the Jordan River — makes logical sense, said Alexandre. It would have been used much like today’s service stations — a place to care for the horses, grab a bite and have a rest.
While the 3rd century border stone notes “Kfar Nafah,” there is no indication in the partially excavated Mamluk ruins that it was part of a settlement. More recently, Nafah was the name of the Syrian village that existed until the 1967 Six Day War. The name was subsequently preserved by the IDF base, which played a strategic role in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, and is now immortalized in the hit Israeli TV series, “Valley of Tears” (She’at Ne’ila).
“Usually, ancient names are preserved as a result of settlement continuity which preserves ancient names from generation to generation… The stone reinforces the possibility that names of ancient settlements were preserved for many generations, even where settlement continuity did not take place,” stated the IAA’s Dr. Danny Syon and Prof. Haim Ben-David from the Kinneret Academic College, who deciphered the inscription.
The salvage excavation is co-directed by Dina Avshalom-Gorni and Alexandre ahead of the installation of a 20-kilometer Mekorot Water Company pipeline near the IDF Nafah base that will supply water to settlements and IDF bases in the Golan Heights. The IAA excavation enlisted the help of students from the Maayan Baruch and Kela Alon pre-military academies.
For archaeologist Alexandre, the discovery of one securely located Roman border stone is “a sign that there are going to be more… It’s just the beginning, the potential of the research is just getting started.”
The excavation has unveiled a previously unknown roadside inn to the corpus of inns in Mamluk Palestine, but also the way in which the Roman border stone was used could be a lead for further research. The Roman stone was in secondary use as a cover for a burial grave, which was probably circa 5th century Byzantine.
“Perhaps this is evidence that maybe this administrative [tax collection] set-up that was carried out at the 3rd century may not have lasted very long. By the circa 5th century, maybe no one was interested in the borders,” she wondered.