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‘World’s only’ Aramaic gravestones found in northern Jordan — French scholar

By Saeb Rawashdeh - Sep 19,2019 - Last updated at Sep 19,2019

Christian funerary stela of Silas from Khirbet es-Samra, written in Greek, 6th century AD (Photo courtesy of J.Aliquot)

AMMAN — Khirbet es-Samra, an archaeological site located some 50 kilometres north of Amman, contains the world’s only Aramaic-inscribed stelae (ancient gravestones), according to a French scholar.

Two kinds of stelae were excavated in the ancient cemetery within the site, noted Pierre-Louis Gatier from the University of Lyon. One type of stela has a regular gravestone shape dating from the 3rd and 4th centuries AD, while the other unusually shaped stela dates from the 6th century AD, Gatier said.

The later stelae are inscribed either in Greek or Aramaic, noted Gatier, and all are Christian, displaying an engraved cross on the surface of each stela.

“Recent archaeological studies led by Abdallah Nabulsi have made it possible to study the tombs much better, showing that the cemetery was very large,” the professor said.

When the population converted to Christianity near the late 4th century AD, they did not change their names, Gatier noted, adding that their names remained a mix of Greek, Latin and Aramaic-Arabic local names.

“Greek and Latin names were not chosen because of their settlement but because they were popular and trendy,” he said. 

Typical Christian names, like the names of saints or prophets (Elias for example) appear on Christian stelae, in Greek or Aramaic, Gatier said, but not on older stelae, as people had not yet converted.

In 1925, French-Dominican priest Antoine-Raphael Savignac arrived at Khirbet es-Samra noticing that the stelae there were “exceptional”, adding that no others in Jordan or Palestine were found written in Aramaic. 

However, the Greek funeral inscriptions of Khirbet es-Samra are quite common and similar to those found in neighbouring villages in Jordan and Syria, he said.

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