An Israeli-American excavation team has uncovered a Byzantine Era stable in southern Israel, the Israel Antiquities Authority announced Thursday. Israeli archaeologists, visiting colleagues from DePaul University in Chicago and a group of Israeli teenagers said the findings left “no room for doubt” that donkeys, sheep and goats inhabited Israel in ancient times.”
The excavation was directed by DePaul Professor Scott Bucking and Dr. Tali Erickson-Gini of the Israel Antiquities Authority, with funding provided by a Fulbright grant.
“The identification of the site as a stable was corroborated by an almost one-meter-thick layer of organic matter – donkey, sheep and goat manure – on the floor of the building,” said Prof. Bucking and Dr. Erickson-Gini after the discovery. “It seems that the place was destroyed by an earthquake that decimated the city of Avdat in the early seventh century CE.”
The stable was discovered in a rock-hewn cave on the mountainside, and had apparently been used as a service structure by local residents who were apparently monks. The structure was divided into several stone-built rooms, with the walls adorned with painted decorations of crosses. Stone basins were also discovered, apparently for storing food and water for the animals.
The teens who participated in the dig are students at the Har Hanegev Field School. Under the guidance of Daniel Fox, an archaeobotanist at Bar Ilan University, the students sifted through hundreds of buckets of organic matter and collected seeds and various organic remains that could shed further light on the use of the building. The artifacts could also lead to answers on a host of questions, including the foods that local inhabitants consumed and what the environment was like in ancient times.
Among the students’ findings were grape seeds which were well-preserved because of the dry conditions in the Negev. Researchers now say they will try to extract DNA samples from the seeds in order to identify some of the species that were grown in the area.
According to Dr. Erickson-Gini, “The youngsters did an excellent job. They displayed great interest in the research and the project, after receiving explanations on how archeologists works and being taken on a guided tour of the site. We enjoyed working with them, and I know that they also enjoyed it, too.”