In the ancient world, the presence of exotic fish in locations distant from the sea would have signified their importance as luxury foods for social elites. Of special interest in this respect is the Red Sea parrotfish (scarus Sp.), which, while consumed regularly around the Red Sea basin, would have been considered an exotic fish when found at great distances from its point of origin. Recent archaeological excavations in the Negev Desert of the southern Levant have yielded surprising and unprecedented quantities of parrotfish remains, found in the landfills of Byzantine sites located some 200 km from the Red Sea (Tepper et al. 2018; Bar-Oz et al. 2019). These sites (Elusa, Soubeita, Oboda, and Nessana), which date from the fourth through seventh centuries CE, are located along the main system of ancient trade routes that connected the Arabian Peninsula and the Red Sea with the Mediterranean region and Europe (fig. 1). The remains recovered from these sites testify to the historical importance of this fish in Byzantine society and economy, as well as to the development of sophisticated trade networks, which facilitated the supply of Red Sea fish to distant inland locations.
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