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Byzantine church excavated in Israel

31 January 2014


EXCAVATIONS for a development in southern Israel have unearthed a 1500-year-old Byzantine church with elaborate mosaic floors.

An archaeologist with the Israeli Antiquities Authority, Dr Daniel Varga, said that an "impressive basilica building" more than 22 yards long and 12 yards wide, had been exposed at Moshav Aluma, near Pelugot Junction, in the northern Negev region.

"The church," he said, "probably served as a centre of Christian worship for neighbouring communities beside the main road between Ashkelon on the sea coast to the west, and Beit Guvrin and Jerusalem to the east."

The area is thought to have produced and exported wine to the entire Mediterranean region. This is the first church to have been discovered, although several other settlements from the same period have previously been excavated. It includes a central hall with two side aisles divided by marble pillars; and a mosaic floor adorned with vine tendrils to form 40 medallions, which show animals including zebra, leopard, turtle, and wild boar.

Three of the medallions contain inscriptions in Greek commemorating senior church figures, including two heads of the local regional church, Demetrios and Herakles.

At the front of the building there is a courtyard, paved with a white mosaic floor, and off the courtyard is a rectangular transverse hall with a mosaic floor decorated with coloured geometric designs. At its centre is 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.

A pottery workshop, mainly for the production of jars, was also uncovered, containing a variety of vessels, such as amphorae, cooking pots, craters, and bowls, as well as oil lamps and glassware. Dr Varga said that the finds indicated a rich and flourishing local culture.

The site will be preserved by reburying it after the mosaics are removed to go on display elsewhere.

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