update deskArchaeology

Israeli student discovers rare Roman-era oil lamp

The lamp lit up the nights for Roman soldiers who guarded a fort on the Scorpions Ascent along an important ancient trade route, according to the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Yonatan Frankel and the lamp he found. Photo by Yoli Schwartz/Israel Antiquities Authority.
Yonatan Frankel and the lamp he found. Photo by Yoli Schwartz/Israel Antiquities Authority.

A high-school student from Hod Hasharon recently discovered a 1,600-year-old Roman-era lamp during a field trip in southern Israel.

When his class stopped for lunch next to the fort of Mezad Tzafir, Yonatan Frankel, 16, began to pick up rocks and examine them.

“One of the stones 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,” said Yonatan.

The oil lamp was produced in Petra, Jordan some time around the fourth or fifth century C.E., according to archaeologists.

“Lamps of this type were uncovered at Mezad Hazeva, and also at Mamshit, Mezad Yotvata and Petra, but the lamp Yonatan found is identical to one discovered at in the same place 90 years ago by archaeologist Nelson Glueck,” explained Israel Antiquities Authority senior researcher Tali Erickson-Gini.

“We know that between the Nabataean-Roman town of Mamshit and the copper mines of Feinan (biblical Punon) in the Central Arava—not far from present-day Moshav Ein Yahav, a trade route was in use in the fourth to sixth centuries C.E.,” she added.

“In order to secure the shipments of copper and possibly even gold from the mines, a series of forts were built between the head of the Scorpions Ascent and Mezad Hazeva, and Mezad Tsafir was one of these. Mounted patrols guarded the important road,” explained Erickson-Gini.

“It’s easy to imagine the lamp lighting up the darkness in the lonely, isolated fort manned by Roman soldiers,” she said.

The 1,600-year-old lamp used to light the fort. Photo by Yoli Schwartz/Israel Antiquities Authority

Yonatan received a certificate of merit for his discovery and for handing over the artifact.

“I wish to thank Yonatan for his good citizenship,” said IAA Director Eli Escusido. “Every object that is turned over to us is kept by the National Treasures Department, and each object can shed significant light, as is indeed the case here, on our past.” 

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