With support from the University of Richmond

History News Network

History News Network puts current events into historical perspective. Subscribe to our newsletter for new perspectives on the ways history continues to resonate in the present. Explore our archive of thousands of original op-eds and curated stories from around the web. Join us to learn more about the past, now.

1,500-year-old garbage dumps reveal city’s surprising collapse

Some 1,500 years ago, the city of Elusa was thriving on the southern edge of the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) empire, in what is now Israel’s Negev desert. The city of up to 20,000 residents featured a theater and public baths, churches and craft workshops, and innovative water management systems that enabled Elusa’s citizens to cultivate their most famous export: Gaza wine, a prized white vintage that was shipped across the Mediterranean to ports as far as France.

Within two centuries, however, the Byzantine city of Elusa (also known as Haluza) had collapsed, leaving behind ancient buildings picked apart by later generations or simply buried beneath shifting sand dunes.

Historians have generally believed that Byzantine social and economic systems in the Negev region declined with the rise of the early Islamic period in the mid-seventh century, a time which ushered in changes like restrictions on wine production, a commodity that generated a lot of money and trade for Elusa.

Thanks to a closer look at Elusa’s municipal garbage dumps, however, archaeologists now realize that the city’s decline occurred almost a century before Islamic influences entered the area, during what had traditionally been considered the peak of the Byzantine period. The culprit? A quick and deadly shift in climate brought about by a succession of distant volcanic eruptions.

Read entire article at National Geographic