The Byzantines of the 4th-7th centuries AD populated the Negev Desert by developing dense urban centers and a productive agricultural hinterland. By the mid-7th century AD some of these settlements were abandoned altogether and others dwindled when much of the former glory of Byzantine occupation in the Negev lay in ruins. Due to the remoteness and arid climate of the desert the preserved ruins of Byzantine towns have remained largely intact for nearly 1,500 years.
The factors which brought about a Byzantine florescence in the Negev and subsequently their collapse remain a mystery to this day and pique the interest of scientists concerned with the vulnerability of complex societies in marginal environments. A 5-years project
funded by the Israel Science Foundation (Grant 340/14) and the European Research Council (ERC) plans to carry out intensive and systematic recovery of biological materials in agricultural settings, within residential structures still sealed and in uniquely preserved garbage dumps surrounding three of the Byzantine towns including Shivta, Elusa and Nessana. The project will examine a multi-causal framework looking at factors such as the adaptation of human economic strategies, climate change and the spread of disease in the form of the Justinian Plague of the 6th century AD. The integration of multiple lines of evidence couched within a bio-archaeological framework shows great potential towards resolving some of the most tenacious issues underlying the emergence and collapse of the Byzantines in the Negev.