German archaeologists have discovered what they say is the earliest proof of Jewish culture on the Iberian Peninsula. A tablet inscribed with Hebrew writing was uncovered in Portugal, with carbon dating placing its creation at 390 AD.
The marble slab measures about 40 by 60 centimeters and is engraved with the name “Yehiel.” Researchers from the Friedrich Schiller University Jen discovered the tablet, which they believe may be an ancient tombstone.
Previously, the earliest evidence of Hebrews in the southwest of Europe was a chandelier dating from 482 AD. The earliest artifact with Hebrew writing was only from the 6th or 7th century AD.
The excavation team spent three years in an area of Portugal near Silves, looking for information on how villagers in that area lived in Roman times.
"We were actually hoping for a Latin inscription when we turned round the excavated tomb slab,“ said Henning Wabersich, a member of the excavation reports.
"We were also most surprised that we found traces of Romans - romanised Lusitanians in this case - and Jews living together in a rural area of all things," said Dr. Dennis Graen head of the excavation. "We assumed that something like this would have been much more likely in a city.“
"During the ecclesiastical council in the Spanish town Elvira about 300 AD rules of conduct between Jews and Christians were issued. This indicates that at this time there must have been a relatively large number of Jews on the Iberian Peninsula already", he said. "We knew that there was a Jewish community in the Middle Ages not far from our excavation site in the town of Silves. It existed until the expulsion of the Jews in the year 1497.“
Graen added: "We eventually want to find out more about the people who lived here. And of course we want to solve the questions the Hebrew inscription has posed us.“