In Aramaic hagel dema signifies "field of blood". The name is written in Greek ’Akeldamá, and very often ’Akeldamách, to render by the letter ch the guttural sound of the final letter aleph.
The earth in this area is of rich clay and was formerly used by potters. For this reason it was formerly known as the Potter's Field. The clay had a strong red colour, which may be the origin of the modern name. More recently it was used as a burial place for non-Jews. It was used for this purpose up to the first quarter of the nineteenth century.
Christian tradition connects it with the death of Judas Iscariot, who is supposed to have bought it with the money he received for betraying Jesus. In this account (Acts of the Apostles 1:19) Judas fell over in this field in such a way that his intestines burst out and he died. This would imply that the name refers to the blood of Judas.
In another version (Gospel of Matthew 27:7) Judas hanged himself after returning the money to the Temple authorities, who then used the money to buy the field called the Potter's Field, which was then used as a burial place for foreigners. Here the implication is that the name refers either to the blood of the buried or the blood of Jesus.
The Akeldama (Hakl-ed-damm) of to-day presents a large, square sepulchre, of which the southern half is excavated in the rock, the remainder being built of massive masonry. In the center stands a huge pillar, constructed partly of rough blocks and partly of polished stones. Much of its clay was taken away by Empress Helena and other prominent Christians, for sarcophagi.
It lies on a narrow level terrace on the south face of the valley of Hinnom.
In the twelfth century, the crusaders erected beyond the field, on the south side of the valley of Hinnom, a large building now in a ruined condition, measuring seventy-eight feet in length from east to west, fifty-eight feet in width and thirty in height on the north. It is roofed and covers towards the southern end several natural grottoes, which were once used as sepulchres of the Jewish type, and a ditch is hollowed out at the northern end which is sixty-eight feet long, twenty-one feet wide and thirty feet deep. It is estimated that the bones and rubbish accumulated there form a bed from ten to fifteen feet thick. Akeldama has been the property of the non-United Armenians since the sixteenth century.