Nessana expedition is supported by
The new archaeological project of Nessana excavations started in 2022 on behalf of the Department of Archaeology of the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and aims to focus on the problematics of the archaeology of pilgrimage.
During the Byzantine and Early Islamic period, Nessana served as a main hub on the way of Christian pilgrims, moving from the Holy Land to the Mount Sinai.
Pilgrimage played a major role in the life of the settlement, as clearly reflected in numerous church buildings erected at the site, inscriptions and graffiti in various languages and in the testimony of the Nessana papyri.
Arid environment with outstanding preservation of the organic remains – textile, leather, basketry, - proven by previous research, shows the great archaeological potential of the site.
The ancient site of Nessana (Nitzana) in south-western Negev, on the modern Israeli–Egyptian border. Established during the Hellenistic period (ca. third century BCE), it later turns into a Roman garrison site, and reaches it peak during the Byzantine and Early Islamic period (fifth–seventh centuries CE).
Serving the main caravan hub on the Christian sacred journeys road from the Holy Land to Sinai, Nessana enjoys all the economic benefits of the pilgrimage, and turns into flourishing urbanized village with population of 6,000–7,000 people, with caravanserais and numerous churches. The site, abandoned sometime during the Abbasid period, at the ninth–tenth century.
The site was inhabited once again only in the eve of the First Word War, when the Ottoman authorities decide to turn it into an administrative and military center of the region. This new settlement, known as ‘Auja al-Hafir, has been built on the top of ancient remains.
The Nessana site
Nessana ancient remains were explored by numerous researchers starting from the late 19th century; two archaeological expeditions were working at the site during the 20th century.
First was the expedition of the British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem, leaded by H.D. Colt (1935–1937), which concentrated its efforts in the upper town and uncovered the remains of military fort and two monumental churches, both preserving the archives of ancient papyri.
In 1987–1996 the site was excavated by the expedition of Archaeological Division of the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, leaded by D. Urman and J. Shershevski. Numerous excavation areas were opened in the upper and lower town, revealing numerous private and public building, among them a monastery and a church. Rich archaeological material – ceramic and glass vessels, coins and epigraphic finds, - was obtained, but the premature death of both excavation directors prevented the full publication of the finds.
Despite the intensive excavation previously conducted at the site, the plan of the lower town of Nessana with its public areas, markets, and streets in the Byzantine and Early Islamic periods, remains archaeologically unknown. The planned expedition work will stand on four pillars:
traditional archaeological work in the field and post-seasonal finds’ proceeding
study of extremely rich ancient written evidence: building inscriptions, graffiti and papyri
macro and microarchaeological study performed in the field and laboratory most updated technological tools: ground penetrating technics, digital models, GIS etc.