Long considered a classic Nabataean town and terminal on the ancient spice route, archaeologists are now considering the possibility that the town was actually a Byzantine agricultural colony and a way station for pilgrims en route to the Santa Catarina, Egypt , located on the supposed site of Mount Sinai.
The new assessment of Shivta is based on an analysis of the irrigation system found at the site, which bears parallels to Byzantine structures elsewhere. Until now, the preponderance of Byzantine ruins were believed to be the remains of a monastic community that established itself on the ruins of an earlier Nabataean town.
The Shivta site contains three Byzantine churches, a wine-press, residential areas and administrative buildings. After the Arab conquest in the 7th Century CE, Shivta began to decline in population. It was finally abandoned in the 8th or 9th Century CE.