X marks the spot on 1,500-year-old burial slab found by 7th-grader near Caesarea

The recent rains have uncovered many artifacts, but 13-year-old Stav Meir had the skills to understand what he found while foraging for mushrooms

Amanda Borschel-Dan is The Times of Israel's Jewish World and Archaeology editor.

Stav Meir, 13, holding a 1,500-year-old Greek burial inscription that he discovered near Caesarea. (Karem Said/ Israel Antiquities Authority)
Stav Meir, 13, holding a 1,500-year-old Greek burial inscription that he discovered near Caesarea. (Karem Said/ Israel Antiquities Authority)

After recent heavy rains near the Israeli coastal city of Caesarea, 13-year-old Stav Meir and his family went foraging for mushrooms. But instead of a tasty fungus, the 7th-grader uncovered a chunk of a 1,500-year-old Byzantine-era Greek burial inscription.

Since Meir had studied archaeology through an Israel Antiquities Authority program for several years in his local Caesarea elementary school, he told his father they must quickly report the item before it gets damaged.

“I immediately recognized that it was something ancient,” said Meir in an IAA press release announcing the find on Wednesday. “I studied archaeology in school together with the Israel Antiquities Authority; therefore, I can easily identify antiquities when I see them.”

According to IAA archaeologist Dr. Peter Gendelman, the book-sized marble slab is a burial inscription with an X or cross marking the spot of the grave of the wealthy individual interned there. Gendelman gave a preliminary reading of the inscription, which he said identifies the person: “The grave of …. and of Anastasius, or Anastasia ……”

The port city of Caesarea was built by Herod the Great and named after the emperor, Caesar Augustus, just prior to the Common Era. It was wiped out in circa 115 CE by a tsunami that was triggered by an earthquake in Turkey. The city was rebuilt in various formats in the centuries that followed.

Aerial photo of the ancient port of Caesarea Maritima. (Yaakov Shimdov/Israel Antiquities Authority)

By the Byzantine era, Caesarea was the capital of the Palaestina Prima province and home to a mixed Greek- and Aramaic-speaking population, in which Jews were the minority.

According to the IAA’s Gendelman, the tombstone piece is of a high quality that “indicates the wealthy status of the person entombed, as well as the customs and beliefs of inhabitants of Caesarea in the Byzantine period. This inscription joins a large collection of burial inscriptions previously discovered around ancient Caesarea.”

Meir’s father, Zohar Meir, said in an IAA video that Stav and his other children have studied archaeology in their Caesarea school since 4th grade. “It’s an amazing thing,” said father Zohar. “They go out in the field, learn our history, find interesting things, go on hikes. And I’m happy that on the heels of these studies, he gained the skills to come and tell me that he found something that is of some worth, and to essentially give the ‘present’ of what he found to the IAA and essentially all the citizens of Israel.”

Karem Said, Haifa district archaeologist at the Israel Antiquities Authority, awards Stav Meir, 13, a certificate of appreciation for his find of a 1,500-year-old Greek burial inscription near Caesarea. (Karem Said/ Israel Antiquities Authority)

The recent rainstorms have potentially uncovered many such artifacts, according to Karem Said, the IAA’s Haifa district archaeologist. “The IAA is pleased and proud of Stav’s good citizenship, and the actual application of the knowledge he has acquired with us in the classroom and in the field.

“We awarded Stav a Certificate of Appreciation for his good citizenship, and we will come to his class for a special lesson addressing the discovery he made. We urge citizens to be our partners in preserving the treasures of the land. Let us know if you discover archaeological finds that have surfaced in the rain,” said Said.

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