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Students of the Har Ha-Negev Field School sifting through 1,500 year old animal droppings / Photographic credit: Tali Erickson-Gini, Israel Antiquities Authority

A structure that was apparently used as a stable for livestock in the Byzantine period was recently revealed in an Israel Antiquities Authority excavation in the Avdat National Park in the Negev desert. The one-meter thick layer of droppings that was found leaves no room for doubt that donkeys, sheep and goats lived there in antiquity.

The stable’s interior. The round stone basins were apparently used for storing food and water for the animals. / Photographic credit: Tali Erickson-Gini, Israel Antiquities Authority
The stable’s interior. The round stone basins were apparently used for storing food and water for the animals. / Photographic credit: Tali Erickson-Gini, Israel Antiquities Authority

The stable, which was constructed in one of the rock-hewn caves on a mountainside, was used as a service structure by local residents who were apparently monks. It was divided into a number of stone-built rooms, whose walls were adorned with painted decorations of crosses. Stone basins were also discovered that were probably used for storing food and water for the animals.

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The excavation, with the participation of students from the Har Ha-Negev Field School, was directed by Professor Scott Bucking of DePaul University (US) and Dr. Tali Erickson-Gini of the IAI, with funding provided by a Fulbright scholar grant.

The front of the stable. / Photographic credit: Tali Erickson-Gini, Israel Antiquities Authority
The front of the stable. / Photographic credit: Tali Erickson-Gini, Israel Antiquities Authority

According to the findings, “the identification 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. It seems that the place was destroyed by an earthquake that decimated the city of Avdat in the early 7th century CE.”

Students from the Har Ha-Negev Field School sifted through hundreds of buckets of organic matter that were excavated in the stable under the guidance of Daniel Fox, an archaeo-botanist from Bar Ilan University. They collected seeds and various small organic remains that in the future can shed more light on the utilization of the building, and on other questions, such as what food the local inhabitants consumed and what was the local environment like in antiquity.

Students of the Har Ha-Negev Field School sifting through 1,500 year old animal droppings / Photographic credit: Tali Erickson-Gini, Israel Antiquities Authority
Students of the Har Ha-Negev Field School sifting through 1,500 year old animal droppings / Photographic credit: Tali Erickson-Gini, Israel Antiquities Authority

Dr. Erickson-Gini said, “The young people did an excellent job. They were taught how an archaeologist works, were given a guided tour of the site and displayed great interest in the research and the project. We enjoyed working with them, and I know that they also enjoyed themselves.”

Students of the Har Ha-Negev Field School sifting through 1,500 year old animal droppings / Photographic credit: Tali Erickson-Gini, Israel Antiquities Authority
Students of the Har Ha-Negev Field School sifting through 1,500 year old animal droppings / Photographic credit: Tali Erickson-Gini, Israel Antiquities Authority

The researchers hope that the grape seeds they found, which were well-preserved because of the dry conditions that prevail in the region, will allow them to extract the DNA of the ancient plant and identify the different species that were grown in the area.

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