Photo Credit: Assaf Peretz, Israel Antiquities Authority
Workers lift the Roman boundary stone.

The Nafah IDF base recently made headlines in an Israeli TV series on the 1973 Yom Kippur War which was bought by HBO, Valley of Tears. Now an archaeological excavation conducted on the Golan Heights reveals for the first time that the name Nafah was given to the site as early as 1700 years ago.

A boundary stone inscribed in Greek was discovered during an archaeological excavation conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority ahead of the Mekorot Water Company project to install a water pipeline in Nafah. At some point, the boundary stone was re-purposed as a tombstone.

The boundary stone with the inscription ‘Kfar Nafah’ in Greek. / Assaf Peretz, Israel Antiquities Authority

The excavation was directed by Dina Avshalom-Gorni and Yardenna Alexandre of the IAA with local volunteers as well as students from the pre-military academies in Maayan Baruch and Kela Alon.

Dr. Danny Syon, together with Prof. Haim Ben-David from the Kinneret Academic College, deciphered the Greek writing on the stone and raised great excitement in archaeological circles.

Aerial view of the Israel Antiquities Authority excavations at Nafah. / Assaf Peretz, Israel Antiquities Authority

According to the researchers, the inscription, which mentions the name Kfar Nafah (Nafah village), was written on a boundary stone that was part of a project conducted under the Roman Emperor Diocletian (around 300 CE), to mark the boundaries of local villages for the purpose of collecting taxes.

This is the first boundary stone in the center of the Golan Heights which bears the name of a place that has been preserved to this day: Nafah was the name of the Syrian village that existed here until the Six-Day War in 1967, where today a military base bearing the same name was established.

Israel Antiquities Authority excavations at Nafah. / Assaf Peretz, Israel Antiquities Authority

Usually, ancient names are preserved as a result of settlement continuity which preserves ancient names from generation to generation. However, at Nafah the ancient remains have not revealed such settlement continuity, and since the Byzantine period—about 1500 years ago, until modern times, there haven’t been any known settlements in the area, apart from briefly during the Mamluk period (13th to 15th centuries CE). Then, centuries later, the Syrian village bearing the name appeared.

The fact that a boundary stone inscribed with the name of a settlement has been preserved to this day is a rare phenomenon, according to the researchers, who now speculate that names of ancient settlements were preserved for many generations, even where settlement continuity did not take place.

Aerial view of the Israel Antiquities Authority excavations at Nafah. / Assaf Peretz, Israel Antiquities Authority

According to Yardenna Alexandre and Dina Avshalom-Gorni of the IAA, “the fascinating excavation at Nafah uncovered a public building from the Mamluk period, which served as a road station. This is the first public administrative building from the Mamluk period excavated in the Golan Heights. The road station was built on the main road connecting the Galilee to Damascus, and probably served as a stopover and resting place for traders and government officials traveling from Tsfat, the capital city of Mamluk Galilee, to Damascus. Here they dined and slept, prepared their equipment for the journey, and cared for the horses.”

“The remains of a furnace and some iron slag were found in the building’s courtyard, indicating that a blacksmith may have worked here, repairing the horseshoes during the stopover,” they added.


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