Rachel Blevis and Guy Bar Oz (University of Haifa) - Irit Zohar (Oranim Academic College), From Sea to Desert platter- the Role of Fish in the Byzantine Negev

During the Roman and Byzantine periods (1st–6th centuries A.D.), we find evidence for major expansion of agriculture in the Negev. Recent excavation of some of the major sites: Halutza, Shivta and Nitzana, included application of systematic sieving with fine mesh. Surprisingly, among the vertebrate remains fish were highly abundant.
Here we present preliminary analyses of ca. 7000 fish remains recovered from garbage dumps and abandoned houses of Shivta (NISP=5,000 ) and Elusa (NISP=1380), dated to the Late Byzantine and Early Islamic periods. The preponderance of fish remains exhibits, for the first time that fish played a major role in the diet of the sites inhabitants, as well as in the economy and trade relations with neighboring areas. We find evidence that the fish originated from diverse and separated aquatic habitats including the Red Sea, Mediterranean Sea, Nile, and freshwater. All were exported through the Negev sites and were used for personal consumption or as trading goods. The information obtained from the fish remains, can significantly contribute to the debate regarding the impact of climate versus social and political shifts towards the end of the Byzantine period.