A lady called Maria who lived some 1,400 years ago apparently led such an immaculate life that her loved ones thought it worth mentioning on her tombstone, which was recently discovered at the Nitzana National Park in southern Israel.

The flat round tombstone, measuring 10 inches in diameter, was unearthed by an Israel Nature and Parks Authority worker while clearing nature paths.

Who was Maria? and what is her connection to the recent discovery in Nizzana National Park? Well, you will have to continue reading this post to learn more >>**A stone bearing an inscription in Greek from the end of the Byzantine period was discovered last weekend in the confines of the Nizzana National Park in the Negev. The flat, round stone, c. 25 cm. in diameter, was used as a tombstone in one of the cemeteries surrounding the ancient settlement. The stone was found by a "Project 500" worker from the Israel Nature and Parks Authority while cleaning and preparing nature paths in the Nizzana National Park. The stone was left at the head of the path when it was noticed by David Palmach, the director of the Nizzana Educational Village, who realized that it bore an inscription. Palmach photographed and collected it to prevent its being looted. He also contacted the Israel Nature and Parks Authority and the Israel Antiquities Authority, and the inscription is being transferred to the National Treasuries Dept. The inscription was deciphered by Dr Leah Di Segni of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and it refers to “Blessed Maria, who lived an immaculate life” and died on February 9th. The stone dates from the late sixth–early seventh centuries CE. According to Tali Erickson-Gini of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “Nizzana is renowned as a key site in research into the transition between the Byzantine and the Early Islamic periods. During the fifth and sixth centuries CE, Nizzana acted as a center for the villages and settlements in the vicinity. Among other things, it had a military fortress as well as churches, monasteries, and a road station that served Christian pilgrims traveling to Santa Katarina, which believers regarded as the site of Mount Sinai.” Nizzana was founded in as early as the third century BCE as a Nabatean road station on a major trade route and the place was inhabited intermittently for about 1300 years, until it was abandoned in the tenth century CE and its name was forgotten.Archaeological excavations at the site in the 1930s unearthed a papyrus archive, and the name ‘Nessana' was rediscovered. The burial-stone find, naming the deceased as Maria, joins other stones commemorating Christians buried in the churches and cemeteries around Nizzana that have been unearthed in excavations by the Ben Gurion University of the Negev, among others. Israel Antiquities Authority Southern District archaeologist Pablo Betzer says, “Unlike other ancient towns in the Negev, very little is known about the burial grounds around Nizzana. The find of any inscription such as this may improve our definition of the cemeteries’ boundaries, thus helping to reconstruct the boundaries of the settlement itself, which have not yet been ascertained.”????: Emil Aladjem, Courtesy of the Israel antiquities authority

Posted by Israel Antiquities Authority on Wednesday, January 6, 2021

The Greek inscription on the stone, deciphered by Leah Di Segni of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, refers to a “Blessed Maria, who lived an immaculate life” and who died on February 9 of an unspecified year. The stone itself was dated to the late sixth to early seventh centuries CE.

“Nitzana is renowned as a key site in research into the transition between the Byzantine and the Early Islamic periods,” explains Tali Erickson-Gini of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

“During the fifth and sixth centuries CE, Nitzana acted as a center for the villages and settlements in the vicinity. Among other things, it had a military fortress as well as churches, a monastery and a road station that served Christian pilgrims traveling to Santa Katarina, which believers regarded as the site of Mount Sinai.”

The ancient town of Nitzana was founded as early as the third century BCE as a Nabatean station on a major trade route. It was inhabited intermittently for over 1,000 years until it was abandoned.

This latest archeological find joins numerous others from the area, such as a papyrus archive unearthed in the 1930s and other tombstones commemorating Christians buried in the churches and cemeteries around the town.