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Stav Meir, holding the 1,500-year-old Byzantine inscription that he discovered near Caesarea.	Source: Karem Said/ Israel Antiquities Authority

13-year-old Israeli Boy Stumbles Upon Ancient Byzantine Inscription

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Many important archaeological finds have been made by accident down the years. In Israel, a lucky boy came across a very important historic artifact while out searching for mushrooms.  He found an important Byzantine inscription on a marble slab. The find illustrates how ordinary citizens can assist archaeologists in unearthing our heritage.

Thirteen-year-old Stav Meir, went with his father, brothers, and cousins on a trip to gather mushrooms, near the northern Israeli city of Caesarea.  Recently there had been some heavy rainstorms in the area, and the family decided it was a great time to look for mushrooms. When looking for some of the edible fungi, Stav came across something amazing. Sticking out of the muddy ground he saw a slab of marble that had some form of writing on it.

Aerial photo of the ancient port of Caesarea Maritima where the Byzantine inscription was found. (Yaakov Shimdov/Israel Antiquities Authority)

Aerial photo of the ancient port of Caesarea Maritima where the Byzantine inscription was found. (Yaakov Shimdov/ Israel Antiquities Authority )

Teenager Leads the Way to Discovery

Israel National News quotes Stav as saying “I immediately recognized that it was something ancient.” This is because he has studied archaeology with his school. The 7 th grader is one of “the thousands of Israeli youths who each year take part in educational programs organized by the IAA,” according to The Jerusalem Post .  Every year staff from educational centers, run by the IAA, visit schools and teach students about the rich history and archaeology of their country.

The young boy immediately called his father over to look at what he had found. Stav told The Jewish Press , because of the IAA program “‘I can easily identify antiquities when I see them.” It appears that the artifact was exposed by the recent heavy downpours and this is something that regularly occurs in Israel.

 

Ancient Byzantine Inscription

Under local law, any suspected find of an artifact that could be of historic importance needs to be reported to the IAA (Israeli Antiquities Authority). Dr. Peter Gendelman was dispatched to examine the find, and he confirmed that the boy had spotted something of real significance.  The archaeologist told The Jewish Press that “this is a burial inscription – a marble slab with an inscription engraved in Greek and adorned with a cross. The Byzantine inscription is in large letters and is still very legible.”

The slab indicates the name of the deceased and was originally part of a tombstone. The Jewish Press quotes Dr. Gendelman as stating that the fragment reads “the grave of …. Anastasius or Anastasia.” It also provides some information on the location of the grave in the burial ground. It is estimated that the artifact is over 1500 years old and dates to the period when this area was controlled by the Byzantine Empire, the successor state of the Roman Empire in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Levant.

Close up of the ancient Byzantine inscription. (Karem Said/ Israel Antiquities Authority)

Close up of the ancient Byzantine inscription. (Karem Said/ Israel Antiquities Authority )

What Does This Tell Us About Ancient Caesarea?

Stav found not only a fragment of a gravestone but also potentially a Christian cemetery. This could provide an insight into the rich history of Caesarea. The Haifa district archaeologist Karim Said told The Jerusalem Post “the finding of the inscription enriches archaeological knowledge and our understanding of ancient Caesarea.”

This was a very important city in the classical period , and it was founded by Herod the Great . In the Roman and later in the Byzantine period, it was a very important Christian center, and it was renowned for its many churches and monumental buildings. However, the city was destroyed during the Muslim invasions of the 7 th century AD and was abandoned until modern times.

Karem Said, Haifa district archaeologist at the IAA, awards Stav Meir with a certificate of appreciation for his find of the 1,500-year-old Byzantine inscription near Caesarea. (Karem Said/ Israel Antiquities Authority)

Karem Said, Haifa district archaeologist at the IAA, awards Stav Meir with a certificate of appreciation for his find of the 1,500-year-old Byzantine inscription near Caesarea. (Karem Said/ Israel Antiquities Authority )

The IAA is very pleased with Stav’s find, and it is showing how the educational program is having an impact on students. They are encouraging others to follow his example and to assist them in their work by reporting any potential finds. Mr. Said told The Jerusalem Post that the IAA urges “citizens to be our partners in preserving the treasures of our land.” The organization has awarded Stav a Certificate of Appreciation in recognition of his find and good citizenship. It also intends to visit his school, to tell his fellow students about the historical importance of his find.

Top image: Stav Meir, holding the 1,500-year-old Byzantine inscription that he discovered near Caesarea. Source: Karem Said/ Israel Antiquities Authority

By Ed Whelan

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