Archaeological Surprise

Experts marvel at the survival of an ancient place name on the Golan Heights

By Michael Selutin | | Topics: archaeology
Photo: Assaf Peretz/IAA

The Nafah Army Base recently made a name for itself when Channel 11 aired a feature on the Yom Kippur War and the battle that took place at the Valley of Tears on the Golan Heights. Archaeological remains found nearby reveal that the place already bore the name Nafah some 1,700 years ago. The remains were discovered during routine excavations as part of installing a new water pipe to better supply military bases and the city of Katzrin.

The boundary stone with the inscription (IAA)

Archaeologists with the Israel Antiquities Authority were amazed that the place name has survived for so long, although no signs of settlement continuity have been found in the area. Under Emperor Diocletian (around 300 AD), stones like the one now found marked village boundaries. It is the first boundary stone in the central Golan on which the ancient place name matches the name still used today. Nafah was also the name of the Syrian village that existed there until 1967.

In Nafah, an administrative building from the Mamluk period (13th-15th centuries) was excavated, also a unique and first-time find on the Golan Heights. The caravanserai was on the highway from Galilee to Damascus. In the courtyard of the structure, archaeologists found an iron-working furnace, suggesting that a farrier may have worked there.

Excavation work

Ancient place names are typically preserved through settlement continuity. However, the ancient remains of Nafah have shown no such continuity. From the Byzantine period about 1,500 years ago until modern times, there are no known settlements there, apart from the brief phase during the Mamluk period. For this reason, experts are fascinated that the name Nafah has survived till today.

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