Photo Credit: Yםli Schwartz, Israel Antiquities Authority

Yonatan Frankel, 16, was picking rocks from the sand during a high school field trip to the Roman and later Byzantine fort of Metsad Tsafir, some 40 miles southeast of Beer Seva in the Negev, and, as he reports, “One of the stones that I picked up was full of dirt. I shook it off, and suddenly I saw a design. Then, I understood that this was a man-made object and not just a stone.”

The oil lamp from Metsad Tsafir. / Yםli Schwartz, Israel Antiquities Authority

Observant boy. Yonatan, who attends Tamar High School in Hod Hasharon, brought the lamp to his teacher, who showed it to their tour guide, who turned it over to the Negev District archaeologist of the Israel Antiquities Authority, Alex Freiberg. Yonatan received a certificate of merit and good citizenship.


The oil lamp was likely produced in Petra, in Jordan, between the fourth and fifth centuries CE. IAA senior researcher Dr. Tali Erickson-Gini was excited at the discovery. “The lamp Yonatan discovered is identical to a lamp that was discovered at in the same location 90 years ago, by archaeologist Nelson Glueck,” she said.

Ma’aleh Akrabim with the fort at its peak. / Dr. Davida Dagan, Israel Antiquities Authority


“We know that a trade route was in use in the 4th-6th centuries CE between the Nabataean-Roman town of Mamshit and the copper mines of Feinan (biblical Punon) in the Central Arava, not far from today’s Moshav Ein Yahav,” Erickson-Gini explained. “A series of forts were built between Ma’aleh Akrabim and Metsad Hatzeva To secure the shipments of copper, as well as possibly gold, from the mines there. Metsad Tsafir was one of those forts, with mounted patrols guarding the road. The lamp was probably used by the Roman soldiers.”


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