Around 1,600 years ago, prosperous communities lived in the highlands of the Negev desert.
Comprised of a few thousand individuals – Elusa, considered the metropolis of the Negev at the time, probably reached 10,000 or 15,000 inhabitants – they thrived around the beautiful churches they built and practiced flourishing agriculture, growing cereals, fruit trees and, vineyards.
By analyzing ancient plant remains and other archaeological artifacts, researchers have been able to document the rise of this society’s market-based economy, as well as its fall around the middle of the 6th century, which might have been caused by a combination of a pandemic, political tensions and climate change.
“I think it is fascinating to see how such a long time later we are still affected by similar challenges,” Daniel Fuks, lead co-author of the paper published on Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), told The Jerusalem Post.
Fuks, a PhD student in the Martin (Szusz) Department of Land of Israel Studies and Archaeology at Bar-Ilan University, led the study as a researcher in Prof. Ehud Weiss’ Archaeobotany Lab, and as a team member of the Negev Byzantine Bio-Archaeology Research Program, “Crisis on the Margins of the Byzantine Empire”, headed by Prof. Guy Bar-Oz of the University of Haifa.
The question of how agriculture was practiced in antiquity in an arid place that still presents challenges today has intrigued scholars for years.
Read More: Jerusalem Post