About 140 long-lost artifacts from the ancient desert village of Shivta in the southern part of Israel have been rediscovered. The artifacts showed up in an archive located in Jerusalem after the suitcase they were carried in was left behind more than 80 years ago.
After a letter was written by a customs official stating information about a lost and found suitcase that was abandoned at the port of Haifa in 1938, researchers decided to investigate the findings. The researchers then discovered that small items from archaeological excavations at Shivta back in the 1930s were in fact the contents that were once inside of the suitcase.
The artifacts were sitting on shelves at a museum archive in Jerusalem for decades. The artifacts include nails, door hinges, jewelry, chunks of glass, objects that were created from bone, wood and ivory, and pieces of pottery that contained Greek and Arabic writing. The majority of the artifacts are believed to be around 1,500 years old from the Shivta’s Byzantine period. They are now located at the Hecht Museum at the University of Haifa where they are on display.
Michael Peleg, who is an archaeologist from the University of Haifa and one of the researchers who rediscovered the items, explained that the artifacts were previously believed to have been destroyed in a fire in Shivta in October of 1938. However, the letter from the customs official indicated that the items had previously been removed from the location months before the fire occurred.
Peleg also told Live Science that it was in fact the director of the 1930s excavations who left the suitcase behind. Harris Dunscombe Colt, who was an American archaeologist, apparently abandoned the suitcase at the port of Haifa when he left the area to aboard a ship in January of 1938. What’s even more mysterious is that Colt never published anything about Shivta even though he did publish his research on his other excavation projects in the Negev.
Peleg said, “If you want to date any building where you want to do an excavation, you have got to have objects, you have got to have the artifacts,” adding, “Basically, the only thing that was left in Shivta was the buildings – but all the finds, what happened, how the excavations were dug, what they found… nothing was known, until now.”
At first, Shivta was a Nabatean trading post, and later during the Byzantine era it turned into a Christian settlement. It was eventually a community where Christians and Muslims lived together until it was abandoned in the ninth century. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site, Shivta is a hot spot for archaeologists to conduct research and excavations.