Archeologists unearth 1,500-year-old livestock stable in southern Israel

Byzantine-era structure used by monks constructed near rock-hewn cave on desert’s mountainside.

The front of the ancient stable found in the Negev (photo credit: COURTESY OF TALI ERICKSON-GINI/ISRAEL ANTIQUITIES AUTHORITY)
The front of the ancient stable found in the Negev
Archeologists from the US and Israel, aided by area high school students, have unearthed a 1,500-yearold livestock stable in the Negev’s Ein Avdat National Park, the Antiquities Authority announced on Thursday.
The joint excavation at the Byzantine-era site was funded by a Fulbright Scholar grant and conducted by the authority, DePaul University and students from the Har Hanegev Field School.
The stable, which was first identified by the presence of millennia-old manure, was destroyed during an earthquake, according to DePaul University Prof. Scott Bucking and Dr. Tali Erickson-Gini of the Antiquities Authority.
“The identification of the stable was corroborated by an almost one-meter thick layer of organic matter consisting of donkey, sheep and goat manure on the floor of the building,” a joint statement said. “It seems that the place was destroyed by an earthquake that decimated the city of Ein Avdat in the early seventh century CE.”
The stable was built near one of the rock-hewn caves on the park’s mountainside, and was used as a service structure by local residents, who were apparently monks, the professors said.
“It was divided into a number of stone-built rooms, whose walls were adorned with painted decorations of crosses,” they noted. “Stone basins were also discovered that were probably used for storing food and water for the animals.”
The Har Hanegev Field School students who worked at the excavation sifted through hundreds of buckets of organic matter excavated under the guidance of Daniel Fox, an archeo-botanist with Bar-Ilan University.
“They collected seeds and various small organic remains that in the future can shed further light on the use of the building and other questions, such as what food the local inhabitants consumed, and what the environment was like in antiquity,” Fox said.
The researchers hope that ancient grape seeds found in the area – well-preserved by prevailing dry conditions – will allow them to extract ancient plant DNA and identify the different species grown there.
“The young people did an excellent job,” Erickson-Gini said, praising the students for their hard work and aid.
“They learned how an archeologist works, were given a guided tour of the site, and they displayed great interest in the research and the project.”
“We enjoyed working with them,” she added. “And I know that they also enjoyed themselves.”