A 1,500-year-old mosaic floor with colorful images of animals, botanical and geometrical designs has been brought to light during the excavation of a Byzantine-era Christian church in southern Israel.
The church was part of a major Byzantine settlement located next to the main road running between Ashkelon on Israel's Mediterranean coast and Jerusalem to the east. Previous excavations along the road had found traces of other communities from the same period, but no churches.
The mosaic that was in the church's main hall features 40 decorative medallions. Some of the medallions depict animals including a zebra, a leopard, a turtle, a wild boar and various types of birds. Three medallions contain Greek inscriptions that commemorate two church leaders named Demetrios and Herakles.
Archaeologist Daniel Varga said another mosaic features "a 12-row dedicatory inscription in Greek containing the names Mary and Jesus, and the name of the person who funded the mosaic's construction." Inside a pottery workshop, archaeologists found jars, cooking pots, bowls and oil lamps.
The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) say the Byzantine-era structure "probably served as a center of Christian worship for neighboring communities."
The discovery was made during a routine salvage excavation conducted by the IAA prior to the construction of a new neighborhood in the area.
The building is approximately 72 feet long by 40 feet wide and consists of a central hall with two side aisles divided by marble pillars. An open courtyard at the front of the structure is paved with a white mosaic floor and a cistern.
Directly off of the courtyard is a rectangular hall with another more intricate mosaic floor with colored geometric designs.
Including among the finds are five inscriptions, one of which mentions Mary and Jesus.
"At its center, opposite the entrance to the main hall, is a twelve-row dedicatory inscription in Greek containing the names Mary and Jesus, and the name of the person who funded the mosaic's construction," archaeologist Daniel Varga said in a press release.
The main hall has a mosaic with depictions of a variety of animals including zebra, leopard, turtle and wild boar. The designs also include Christian symbols.
Archaeologists also discovered glass vessels, oil lamps, amphorae, cooking pots, kraters, and bowls. These finds "indicate a rich and flourishing local culture" during the Byzantine period.
In order to preserve the site, it will be covered with dirt and the IAA is making plans to remove the mosaic floors to be put on display.
|Ultra-Orthodox Jewish youths watch as Israeli
archaeologists work on the mosaic.
|The intricate artwork was found when a 1,500-year-old Byzantine church
was excavated and has Greek symbols, which archaeologists said show
that it once served as a center of Christian worship.
|An ancient mosaic showing a menagerie of animals from birds (pictured) to
leopards, has been unearthed in southern Israel in a town near Tel Aviv.
|Experts from the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) discovered marble pillars and
the mosaic floor inside the basilica, which measures 72ft by 39ft (22 by 12metres). Tiles of different colors were assembled to create a geometrical design.
|Provincia Palaestina Prima
The recently discovered church was located in the Roman Empire province of Judea which later became the Eastern Roman Province of Palaestina.
Rome's involvement in the area dated from 63 BCE, following the end of the Third Mithridatic War, when Rome made Syria a province. In that year, after the defeat of Mithridates VI of Pontus, the proconsul Pompeius Magnus (Pompey the Great) sacked Jerusalem and entered the Jerusalem Temple. Subsequently, during the 1st century BCE, the Herodian Kingdom was established as a Roman client kingdom and then in 6 CE parts became a province of the Roman Empire.
Palæstina Prima or Palaestina I was a Byzantine province from 390, until the 7th century. It was lost to the Jewish Sassanid Commonwealth in 614, but was re-annexed in 628, before its final loss during the Muslim conquest of Syria in 636.
(Palaestina Prima) (Roman Province Judea)
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