A Villa's Surprising Residents

Digs & Discoveries September/October 2012

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An unexpected new find from a Roman villa in Portugal has archaeologists reassessing their knowledge about the early Jewish population in Iberia. While excavating one of the villa’s rooms, a team from Friedrich Schiller University of Jena in Germany discovered a stone slab with what appears to be a Hebrew inscription. Carbon dating on material associated with the find indicates that the inscription dates to the fourth century a.d., though it may be even older. “We never expected such a strange piece in the context of a Roman villa,” says excavation leader Dennis Graen. “It tells us that Jews and Romans were living together during this period.” Experts are still analyzing the inscription, but the name “Yehiel” can be identified, and perhaps the phrase, “The Jew/Judean is blessed by heaven.” Graen says, “This is still to be verified, but we are certain that we have found one of the oldest Jewish relics from the Iberian Peninsula.”

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