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A spectacular and huge mosaic dating back to the Byzantine Period (4 th to 6 th Century AD) has been uncovered in Kibbutz Bet Qama, at an excavation site located on an ancient road that ran north from Be’er Sheva in Israel, spurring curiosity amongst archaeologists who do not yet know the purpose of the building in which it was found.
The colourful mosaic would have covered an area 40 feet long by 28 feet wide, which is much larger than other mosaics of the period. It is divided into three squares with circles within each and is decorated with interwoven designs, as well as special feature designs such as two peacocks, a dove and a partridge, and an amphora with a pomegranate and a lemon-like fruit inside.
"The find of this mosaic is extraordinary; the size of it and the goes beyond what is usually found," archaeologist Davida Degen said. "This is an unusual find."
The mosaic would have been used as the floor of a public building. However, it is unknown what the main function of the building was. Other areas of the site showed evidence of the practice of Christianity but the public building did not appear to be used for religious purposes. There were also pools and a network of channels and pipes found in front of the building, the walls of which were covered in coloured frescos. Archaeologists have said that the construction of the original site would have required considerable economic resources.
Extraordinary Byzantine Mosaic Unearthed in Israel - History
An impressive 1,600-year-old mosaic found during archaeological excavations in Yavne is to be placed on public display at the city&rsquos cultural center, in a joint initiative launched by Yavne municipality, the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Israel Land Authority.
In recent years, the Israel Antiquities Authority has been conducting large-scale archaeological excavations to the southeast of Tel Yavne, as part of the Israel Land Authority&rsquos city development program. The excavations, directed by Dr. Elie Haddad, Liat Nadav-Ziv and Dr. Jon Seligman, unearthed an extensive industrial zone that was in operation for several centuries.
According to the archaeologists, this is the first time that such a pavement has been uncovered in Yavne and its preservation is excellent. In their opinion, &ldquoThe pavement may have been part of a splendid residential building in a wealthy neighborhood adjacent to the industrial zone.&rdquo
The mayor of Yavne, Zvi Gur-Ari, states that &ldquoArchaeological preservation and awareness of the past are important values in the life of the city of Yavne, which has a magnificent history. In an age of progress and accelerated development in all fields of life, future generations should also be able to see how the city has evolved throughout history. We will continue to work with the Israel Antiquities Authority to ensure public accessibility to the finds and continued research and understanding of the city&rsquos past and its historical importance.&rdquo
The multicolored mosaic pavement, dated to the Byzantine period (4th -5th century CE) was unearthed in archaeological excavations directed by Avishag Reiss of the Israel Antiquities Authority.
The floor is decorated with colorful geometric motifs and has a black rectangular frame. &ldquoAt first, we did not realize that the floor is multicolored,&rdquo say Dr. Elie Haddad and Dr. Hagit Torgë.
&ldquoWe assumed that it was simple white mosaic paving belonging to yet another industrial installation. But black patches dotted around the mosaic suggested that it was more than one color and prompted us to remove the whitish patina that had coated it for years.
The conservation director went to work cleaning the mosaic with a special acid,&rdquo they add, &ldquoand to our astonishment, a colorful mosaic carpet was revealed, ornamented with geometric motifs.&rdquo
Once the mosaic had been documented, drawn and photographed in the field, it was removed and temporarily transferred to the Israel Antiquities Authority&rsquos mosaic workshop at the Rockefeller Museum, where it has been treated and preserved by the authority&rsquos conservation experts.
In cooperation between the Israel Antiquities Authority and Yavne municipality, which endeavors to make archeology accessible to the town&rsquos residents, and with the assistance of the Israel Land Authority, a suitable location has been found for the mosaic &ndash in the plaza near Yavne&rsquos cultural center.
The municipality is currently preparing the infrastructure for the mosaic, for the benefit of Yavne&rsquos citizens and the general public. The mosaic&rsquos relocation and preservation will be carried out using ancient technological methods and employing materials similar to those used in antiquity. During the work, the site will be open to the public, thus enabling everyone to see and enjoy the conservation process and the gradual uncovering of the mosaic.
Archaeologist Diego Barkan from the Israel Antiquities Authority&rsquos Tel Aviv District welcomes the fruitful cooperation between the Israel Land Authority and Yavne municipality. &ldquoI am happy that the mosaic will be displayed in a central location in the city, so that the values embodied in its heritage are preserved and made accessible to the general public.&rdquo
1,600-year-old biblical mosaic discovered in Israel, sheds light on ancient Judaism
Archaeologists have uncovered a stunning 1,600-year-old biblical mosaic in northern Israel.
The mosaic, which depicts a scene from the book of Exodus, was found at the site of a fifth-century synagogue in Huqoq.
Excavation director Jodi Magness, a professor at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said the mosaic was the first depiction of the episode of Elim from Exodus 15:27 ever found in ancient Jewish art. “Elim is where the Israelites camped after leaving Egypt and wandering in the wilderness without water,” she explained in a statement, noting that the mosaic is separated into three registers or horizontal strips.
One register showed clusters of dates being harvested by loincloth-clad agricultural workers while another showed a row of wells and date palms, she explained. “On the left side of the panel, a man in a short tunic is carrying a water jar and entering the arched gate of a city flanked by crenellated towers. An inscription above the gate reads, ‘And they came to Elim’,” Magness added.
A detail from the Elim mosaic. (Jim Haberman, Courtesy: UNC-Chapel Hill)
Archaeologists also discovered mosaics depicting four beasts described in Chapter 7 of the Book of Daniel. The beasts represented four kingdoms preceding the end of days.
“The Daniel panel is interesting because it points to eschatological, or end of day, expectations among this congregation,” said Magness, in the statement. “The Elim panel is interesting as it is generally considered a fairly minor episode in the Israelites’ desert wanderings – which raises the question of why it was significant to this Jewish congregation in Lower Galilee.”
The mosaics have been removed from the site for conservation.
Magness and the archaeological team during the summer 2019 dig at Huqoq. (Jim Haberman, Courtesy: UNC-Chapel Hill)
The excavation marked the ninth year of digs at the Huqoq site. The first mosaics were discovered in 2012. Between 2014 and 2017, archaeologists discovered mosaics depicting Noah’s Ark, the parting of the Red Sea, Jonah and the fish and the Tower of Babel, painting a fascinating picture of life at the ancient site.
In 2018 researchers also announced the discovery of a stunning mosaic depicting a biblical scene from Numbers 13:23. Labeled "a pole between two," the panel showed two spies sent by Moses to explore the biblical land of Canaan.
Another mosaic discovered at Huqoq includes a depiction of Samson. There also has been an ongoing debate about whether a mosaic uncovered in 2016 portrays Alexander the Great. The purported Alexander the Great mosaic was the first non-biblical story ever found decorating an ancient synagogue.
A mosaic depicting the building of the Tower of Babel. (Jim Haberman, Courtesy UNC-Chapel Hill)
Experts said the wealth of mosaics show that Jewish life in the surrounding village flourished during Christian rule in the fifth century. This challenges a widely held view that Jewish settlement in the area declined during that period.
“Our work sheds light on a period when our only written sources about Judaism are rabbinic literature from the Jewish sages of this period and references in early Christian literature,” said Magness, who noted it showed only the viewpoint of the men who wrote it. Additionally, early Christian literature generally was hostile to Jews and Judaism.
The parting of the Red Sea mosaic. (Jim Haberman, Courtesy: UNC-Chapel Hill)
“So, archaeology fills this gap by shedding light on aspects of Judaism between the fourth to sixth centuries CE – about which we would know nothing otherwise,” Magness explained. “Our discoveries indicate Judaism continued to be diverse and dynamic long after the destruction of the second Jerusalem temple in 70 CE.”
A mosaic depicting Jonah being swallowed by a fish. (Jim Haberman, Courtesy UNC-Chapel Hill)
The Huqoq Excavation Project has involved experts from a host of universities, including Baylor University, Brigham Young University and the University of Toronto, as well as the Israel Antiquities Authority and Tel Aviv University.
The single most important piece of Byzantine Christian mosaic art in the East is the Madaba Map, made between 542 and 570 as the floor of the church of Saint George at Madaba, Jordan. It was rediscovered in 1894. The Madaba Map is the oldest surviving cartographic depiction of the Holy Land. It depicts an area from Lebanon in the north to the Nile Delta in the south, and from the Mediterranean Sea in the west to the Eastern Desert. The largest and most detailed element of the topographic depiction is Jerusalem, at the center of the map. The map is enriched with many naturalistic features, like animals, fishing boats, bridges and palm trees.
One of the earliest examples of Byzantine mosaic art in the region can be found on Mount Nebo, a place of pilgrimage in the Byzantine era where Moses died. Among the many 6th century mosaics in the church complex in an area known as Siyagha (discovered after 1933) the most interesting one is located in the baptistery. The intact floor mosaic in the Byzantine monastery, built on the foundations of an even earlier chapel from the third or fourth century CE, was laid down in circa 530. It covers an area of 9 x 3 m and depicts the monastic pastime of wine-making, as well as hunters, with a rich assortment of Middle Eastern flora and fauna. 
The Church of Sts. Lot and Procopius was founded in 567 in Nebo village under Mount Nebo (now Khirbet al-Mukhayyat). Its floor mosaic depicts everyday activities like grape harvest. Another two spectacular mosaics were discovered in the ruined Church of Preacher John nearby. One of the mosaics was placed above the other one which was completely covered and unknown until the modern restoration. The figures on the older mosaic have thus escaped the iconoclasts. 
The town of Madaba remained an important center of mosaic making during the 5-8th centuries. In the Church of the Apostles even the name of the master mosaicist, Salomios was also recorded (from 568). In the middle of the main panel Thalassa, goddess of the sea, can be seen surrounded by fishes and other sea creatures. Native Middle Eastern birds, mammals, plants and fruits were also added. The Church of Prophet Elijah was built in 607. Its carpet-like central panel in the nave framed by a row of medaillons depicting native animals. Mosaic was used as a decoration not only for churches but for rich private residences like the Hippolytos Hall and the Burnt Palace (both from the early 6th century). They follow the classical Greco-Roman tradition with mythological and allegorical scenes like the Four Seasons, Phaedra and Hippolytos, Venus and Adonis, the Three Graces and the city goddesses of Madaba, Rome and Gregoria (in the Hippolytos Hall) hunting scenes, fight of a bull and a lion (in the Burnt Palace). 
The early 7th-century church complex of Tell Mar Elias, the birthplace of Prophet Elijah, (in present-day Jordan, near Ajlun) was discovered in 1999. The floor of the cruciform main church is decorated with wonderfully intact, multi-colored mosaics with floral and geometric motifs (flowers, leaves, scrolls, braided patterns, amphorae) without any representations of animals or humans. One large mosaic floor inscription in white letters on a red background says that the presbyter Saba and his wife offered the church to God as an expression of their faith, in the year 622. 
Another holy place, Bethany Beyond the Jordan (Al Maghtas), the scene of the baptism of Jesus, was excavated after 1994. Floor mosaics were discovered in the 5-6th century Church of the Arch, the Church of the Trinity and also the 5th century Rhotorios Monastery (with Greek inscriptions). The floor here was covered by a colored mosaic with a frame and cross marks depicted with geometrical designs.   On the other side of the lower Jordan Valley another church was discovered in ancient Archelais (now Khirbet el-Beiyudat). According to inscriptions its floor was paved with mosaics during the 560s.
The monastic complex above Lot’s Cave (near the southern end of the Dead Sea), which was uncovered after 1988, contained five mosaics, one dated April 606, another May 691. 
Another important mosaic site around Madaba is ancient Esbus, present-day Tell Hesban where two Byzantine churches have been discovered. Both churches produced impressive remains of mosaic floors which is not surprising given the fact that Esbus was an ecclesiastical center with its own bishop.  Particularly interesting is the nilotic mosaic of the presbytery of the North Church where the mosaicists have created a motif of a turtledove set on a nest made of an imaginary flower.  Christian mosaics were also discovered in other settlements in the surroundings of Madaba like Ma'in and Massuh, testifying the widespread popularity of the craft in Byzantine times and the importance of the Madaba area as an artistic center. The church at Massuh has two layers of floor mosaics. The lower one, from the 6th century, has no iconoclastic damage, while the upper layer, from the 7th century, was systematically altered by iconoclasts. Figures were carefully replaced by crosses, or floral and architectural motifs. 
Important Justinian era mosaics decorated the Saint Catherine's Monastery on Mount Sinai. Generally wall mosaics have not survived in the region because of the destruction of buildings but the St. Catherine's Monastery is exceptional. On the upper wall Moses is shown in two panels on a landscape background. In the apse we can see the Transfiguration of Jesus on a golden background. The apse is surrounded with bands containing medallions of apostles and prophets, and two contemporary figure, "Abbot Longinos" and "John the Deacon". The mosaic was probably created in 565/6.
Jerusalem with its many holy places probably had the highest concentration of mosaic-covered churches but very few of them survived the subsequent waves of destructions. The present remains do not do justice to the original richness of the city. The most important is the so-called "Armenian Mosaic" which was discovered in 1894 near the Damascus Gate. It depicts a vine with many branches and grape clusters, which springs from a vase. Populating the vine's branches are peacocks, ducks, storks, pigeons, an eagle, a partridge, and a parrot in a cage. The inscription reads: "For the memory and salvation of all those Armenians whose name the Lord knows." The symbolism of the mosaic indicates that the room was used to remember the dead as a mortuary chapel. In the Dominus Flevit Church on Mount Olives a 7th-century Byzantine chapel was unearthed in 1955. The floor is richly decorated with intersecting circles and pictures of fruit, leaves, flowers, and fish. A Greek inscription mentions Simon, who "decorated this place of prayer in honor of Jesus". In the nearby Church of the Agony (built originally in the last decades of the 4th century) a colorful mosaic floor was discovered in 1920 which follows a geometric design. Fragments of a similar geometric mosaic floor were preserved in the Basilica of St. Stephen (outside the Damascus Gate) which was built by Empress Aelia Eudocia in the first half of the 5th century.
On the outskirts of Jerusalem in the Monastery of the Cross a section of the elaborate 5th century mosaic floor survived, incorporating pictures of peacocks, plants and geometric patterns. Early Byzantine mosaics were preserved in the Church of John the Baptist in Ein Kerem, the Beit Jimal Monastery (in the 5th century the Church of the Tomb of St. Stephen, mosaics discovered in 1916), the Church of the Seat of Mary (Kathisma) (from the 5-8th centuries, floral and geometric designs, cornucopiae, discovered in 1992-7) and the lower church at Shepherds' Field (or Beit Sahour, the Greek Orthodox site, a floor including crosses, and therefore must predate 427). An exceptionally well preserved, carpet-like mosaic floor was uncovered in 1949 in Bethany, the early Byzantine church of the Lazarium which was built between 333 and 390. Because of its purely geometrical pattern, the church floor is to be grouped with other mosaics of the time in Palestine and neighboring areas, especially the Constantinian mosaics in the central nave at Bethlehem.  A second church was built above the older one during the 6th century with another more simple geometric mosaic floor. In 2003 during the construction works of the Israeli West Bank barrier in Abu Dis workers damaged the remains of a Byzantine monastery which was subsequently excavated. The monastery church had an elaborate mosaic floor decorated with images of animals including a deer and an octopus. 
Ruins of three Byzantine churches were discovered in the village of Beit Jibrin (ancient Eleutheropolis). One was decorated with an exquisite mosaic depicting the four seasons but it was defaced during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. The other church north of the wadi was excavated in 1941–1942. Its floor mosaic have octagons with representations of birds, quadrupeds, and scenes from the story of Jonah depicting the prophet being thrown out of the boat or resting.  In nearby Emmaus Nicopolis two Byzantine basilicas were built in the 6-7th centuries above the house of Cleopas, which was venerated by Christians as the place of the breaking of bread by the risen Christ. Both were decorated with mosaic floors. In the northern nave of the southern basilica, a nilotic mosaic portrayed birds, animals and flowers.  In Abu Gosh a 5th-century mosaic floor was preserved in the modern Church of the Ark of the Covenant.
The monastic communities of the Judean Desert also decorated their monasteries with mosaic floors. The Monastery of Martyrius was founded in the end of the 5th century and it was re-discovered in 1982-85. The most important work of art here is the intact geometric mosaic floor of the refectory although the severely damaged church floor was similarly rich.  The mosaics in the church of the nearby Monastery of Euthymius are of later date (discovered in 1930). They were laid down in the Umayyad era, after a devastating earthquake in 659. Two six pointed stars and a red chalice are the most important surviving features. The church floor was later replaced with rough opus sectile (probably by the Crusaders). In 1995-99 two large Byzantine churches were discovered in Khirbet Yattir (ancient Iethira) in the southern part of the Judean Desert. They belonged to monastic communities and were paved with beautiful mosaics in the 6-7th centuries. Two phases can be distinguished in the mosaic floor of Church C. The earlier was decorated with four birds and medallions of vines while the later one was divided into 23 strips which contain magical symbols and holy names. The dedicatory inscription dates this mosaic to the year 631/32.
The most important Byzantine mosaics in Samaria were discovered in Shilo where three basilicas were uncovered. The large mosaic floor of the Church of the Ark (completed in 420, re-discovered in 2006) contains geometric designs, flora representations and three Greek inscriptions, among them a salute to the residents of Seilun (Shilo). 
On 2017, during a salvage excavation ahead of telephone cable infrastructure placement, archaeologists uncovered a rare Greek mosaic, about a kilometer north of the Old City on a road leading to the Damascus Gate. The inscription on the mosaic reads, “In the time of our most pious emperor Flavius Justinian, also this entire building Constantine the most God-loving priest and abbot, established and raised, in the 14th indiction.” Archeologists called the find “extremely exciting,” saying that “it’s not every day that one finds an inscription — a ‘direct letter’ from someone — from 1,500 years ago.” The word “indiction,” is an ancient method of counting years for taxation purposes. Based on historical sources, the mosaic can be dated to the year 550/551 CE.  
Two mosaic sites were discovered in the vicinity of modern-day Nahariya in Western Galilee. One that now belongs to moshav Shavei Tzion was a 5-6th-century church that stood immediately on the seashore. The main motifs of its carpet-like, decorative floor are red swastikas on white background. The other church is located on a hill called Khirbet Ittaim. The tri-apsidal basilica was built in 555 by the bishop of Tyre and was destroyed in 614 by the Persians. The remarkable mosaic floor has figurative scenes like a hunter attacking a tiger in the south apse, a man with a horse, a sitting man playing a flute and two beautiful peacocks drinking from the fountain of life.
In 1940 a 6th-century Byzantine church was discovered in present-day Hanita. Among the mainly decorative motifs of its mosaic floor there are two animal scenes: a boar grazing on a field and a hare eating grapes (the latter is very uncommon). Both are considered a symbol of redemption. 
The mosaic decoration of the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth, which was one of the great Constantinian basilicas of the Holy Land, was totally destroyed during the centuries together with much of the basilica. Archeological evidences prove that prior to the mid-4th century another small church stood on the site. A mosaic inscription referring to Deacon Conon survived of this building.  The existence of a large Byzantine church on the site of the present-day Sisters of Nazareth convent was proven in 2006-2007. This church was architecturally complex and elaborately decorated, it was floored with polychrome mosaic (of which only very scant remains survived) and also had polychrome wall mosaics. Further mosaic-floored Byzantine buildings were located to the south of the church. This evidence indicates that Byzantine Nazareth contained two large churches dominating its centre, with other mosaic-floored and colonnaded masonry structures around them. As such the town had to be an important Byzantine pilgrimage centre.  On the top of nearby Mount Tabor which was venerated as the place of the Transfiguration of Christ another great church was built before 422. A small portion of its mosaic floor survived.
The Monastery of Lady Mary near Bet She'an was established in 567. Many rooms and the church itself was decorated with mosaic among them a great zodiac, a circle of 12 figures representing the months, with the sun god Helios and the moon goddess Selene in the centre. Similar mosaic zodiacs were found in contemporary Jewish synagogues. Other mosaics represent vine tendrils, hunters, animals and birds.
There is a 5th-century church located at Kursi on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. The site is connected with the biblical Gergesa as the location where Jesus cast a legion of demons from a possessed person. The mosaics visible today include geometric patterns, birds, cucumbers, gourds, melons, and grape clusters.
Mosaic art also flourished in Christian Petra where three Byzantine churches were discovered. The most important one was uncovered in 1990. It is known that the walls were also covered with golden glass mosaics but only the floor panels survived as usual. The mosaic of the seasons in the southern aisle is from this first building period from the middle of the 5th century. In the first half of the 6th century the mosaics of the northern aisle and the eastern end of the southern aisle were installed. They depict native as well as exotic or mythological animals, and personifications of the Seasons, Ocean, Earth and Wisdom.  
Mosaic covered churches prove that the towns along the Nabatean spice road in the Negev Desert flourished in the Christian era. In Mamshit two great churches survived. The Eastern Church (or Church of the Martyrs) was probably built in the late 4th century and has a geometric floor with crosses. The mosaics of the Western (or Nile) Church are more elaborate depicting birds, fruit basket, swastikas and flowers. An inscription in a medallion reads: "God, save your servant Nilus, lover of Jesus, who founded this building. Preserve him and his household."
Several mosaics were discovered around Gaza which was an important centre of Christianity during the Byzantine era. The most publicized of these discoveries were made in 1917 by Australian troops fighting against the Ottomans at Shellal. The church stood upon a small hill above Wadi Guzze and has an elaborate floor decorated exotic animals in medallions and two beautiful peacocks. It was dated to 561–562 and it is regarded an extraordinary piece of Justinian era mosaic art. A lesser known mosaic of a church was also uncovered during military operations in the summer of 1917 at Umm Jerar, south of Gaza. Two floors have many similarities in design.
In the Barnea district of the port of Ashkelon two large Byzantine churches were unearthed. In the first only the remains of glass tesserae prove that its walls were decorated with mosaics while in the other one an almost intact geometric floor survived with three inscriptions dating to years 493 and 498.
As part of ancient region of Syria, present-day Lebanon shared the same great tradition in Roman and Byzantine mosaic art as neighbouring areas. In the recent past many important finds were brought to light in cities and churches all over the country. An important Byzantine mosaic collection was established in Beiteddine Palace, mostly from discoveries in the coastal town of Jiyyeh (ancient Porphyrion). They date from the 5-6th centuries. The designs are often geometric and stylized but there are also interesting depictions of animals, including leopards, gazelles, lions, hares and birds, as well as religious figures.
A big geometric mosaic floor was unearthed in the Church of St John the Baptist in Byblos.
Three-Part History Lesson?
Britt, the art historian, agrees with Magness that the mosaic tells a story that would have held great meaning for ancient synagogue-goers. But she has come up with a different theory about what that story might be—a situation that’s not unusual as members of a research project consider the evidence from different points of view.
Britt and Ra’anan Boustan, a UCLA history of religion specialist who’s also a member of the excavation team, have spent the past two years consulting ancient literature, considering scenes of similar figures in ancient art, and visiting the ruins of synagogues around the Sea of Galilee.
They interpret the mosaic as the depiction of a Seleucid attack on Jerusalem led by King Antiochus VII (pronounced an-TIE-oh-cuss) in 132 B.C.
Like Magness, Britt and Boustan read the mosaic from bottom to top. But in their interpretation, the lowest register depicts a battle in which Seleucid soldiers as well as an elephant and a bull have been killed by spears. The fighting took place outside Jerusalem proper, and the city’s Judean defenders hurled the spears at the invading army from the top of the city walls.
The middle register shows what was going on inside the city during that battle. Judean youths stand with their hands on their swords, ready to take on any invaders who might breach the city walls. In this interpretation, the Judean leader is a high priest named John Hyrcanus I (pronounced HER-cuh-ness).
In the top register, the two leaders—John Hyrcanus I on the left, and Antiochus VII on the right—conclude negotiations for a truce in the company of their respective troops.
The Seleucid leader wears the expected cloak and diadem of Greek royalty, but the breastplate is anachronistically Roman—the only kind of armor the fifth-century mosaic artists would have been familiar with.
The day of the truce is a Jewish feast day, so Antiochus—a pious man—is giving the Judeans a bull to be sacrificed in their temple. In exchange, John Hyrcanus offers up a coin symbolizing the tribute that the Judeans have to hand over.
“In many respects the Seleucid dynasty was a big military machine that collected tribute,” Britt says. “They went to battle, conquered territory, and demanded payment.”
Another important clue for Britt is the fact that the Judean leader is pointing skyward. “He’s signaling to the viewer that the truce being concluded is sanctioned by God,” she explains.
As a three-part history lesson, the scenes would have delivered an affirming message of resilience to the Jews who lived at Huqoq under the boot of the Roman Empire. Invasions, like that of the Romans, were nothing new in this part of the world.
“The Jews were frequently conquered by other people,” Britt says. “The message here is that not only could they hold their own in battle, but they could also reach an honorable and mutually agreeable treaty with their overseers.”
Of course, there’s no knowing exactly what the mosaic makers had in mind, and there’s no explanation that fits all the details of the three scenes in this panel.
“I think you could make the case for a number of different interpretations,” says Magness. With the mosaic now revealed, and the likely possibilities outlined, she expects the debates to begin.
The remains of a 1,500-year-old monastery with intact mosaics covering the floor have been unearthed in southern Israel, the Israel Antiquities Authority announced Tuesday (April 1).
The Byzantine complex — which was discovered near Hura, a Bedouin village in the northern Negev Desert — measures 65 feet by 115 feet (20 by 35 meters). It is arranged on an east-west axis, a common feature in Byzantine churches, and a prayer hall and dining room are decorated with elaborate mosaics that show geometric patterns, leaves, flowers, baskets, jars and birds.
These tiles have managed to retain their vibrant blue, red, yellow and green colors over the centuries. The floor decorations, IAA officials say, include inscriptions in Greek and the Syriac language, which contain rather helpful information for historians: the names of the monastery's abbots — Eliyahu, Nonus, Solomon and Ilrion — and the dates on which each floor was laid down during the second half of the sixth century A.D. [Image Gallery: See a Stunning Byzantine Mosaic]
"It seems that this monastery, located near the Byzantine settlement of Horbat Hur, is one monastery in a series of monasteries situated alongside a road that linked Transjordan with the Be'er Sheva Valley," Daniel Varga, who was leading excavations at the site for the IAA, said in a statement.
The monastery also has four service rooms in the western wing, which are paved with white mosaic tiles, IAA officials said. Archaeologists found ceramic jars, cooking pots, kraters, bowls, glass vessels and coins strewn about the ruins.
The discovery was made during a salvage excavation ahead of construction of an interchange on southern Israel's Highway 31. Israeli officials say they plan to relocate the monastery, including its mosaics, to the Wadi 'Attir agricultural and tourism project next to Hura.
Salvage excavations are common in archaeologically rich locales like Israel, where construction and development projects could cover up or damage hidden ruins. Before Israel's Highway 38 could be widened in Eshtaol, archaeologists dug several trenches on the side of the road and discovered a 10,000-year-old house, one of the oldest dwellings in the region. Ahead of the construction of a bridge along Highway 44, excavators found traces of a 900-year-old wealthy estate with a garden and mosaic fountain. During expansions to Highway 1 last year, excavators found a carving of a phallus from the Stone Age.
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Colorful, 1,600-Year-Old Mosaic Adorned With Geometric Patterns Found in Israel
Archaeologists in central Israel have discovered a colorful, 1,600-year-old mosaic that may have been part of a Byzantine-era mansion.
The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) conducted a dig at the site ahead of new residential construction in the city of Yavne, reports Yori Yalon for Israel Hayom. The team found the geometric artwork near an ancient industrial zone.
“At first, we did not realize that the floor [was] multicolored,” say IAA archaeologists Elie Haddad and Hagit Torgë in a statement. “We assumed that it was simple white mosaic paving belonging to yet another industrial installation. But black patches dotted around the mosaic suggested that it was more than one color and prompted us to remove the whitish patina that had coated it for years.”
After cleaning the mosaic with a special acid, the scholars add, “to our astonishment, a colorful mosaic carpet was revealed, ornamented with geometric motifs.”
Excavations uncovered the mosaic near the remains of an ancient industrial district. (Assaf Peretz / Israel Antiquities Authority)
The researchers conclude that the mosaic floor probably belonged to a grand home in a residential area near the industrial zone.
Yavne, located about 15 miles south of Tel Aviv, was once known as Jabneh. Per Encyclopedia Britannica, it was settled by Philistines before coming under Jewish control in the eighth century B.C. After the Romans destroyed the Temple of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., the city’s academy became one of the most important scholarly centers in the Jewish world.
According to rabbinic tradition, writes Rossella Tercatin for the Jerusalem Post, Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai escaped Jerusalem during the Roman siege and eventually won permission from Roman Emperor Vespasian to establish a center of Torah study in Yavne. Per the Jewish Press’ David Israel, scholars at the academy preserved the Oral Torah, ensuring the survival of the laws, calendar and liturgy that form the basis of modern Judaism.
At the time of the mosaic’s creation, around 400 A.D., much of modern-day Israel was under the control of the Byzantine—or Eastern Roman—Empire. Despite sometimes facing hostile treatment from the empire’s Christian leaders, Jewish communities during this period retained their cultural institutions and local leadership structures, notes the Jewish Virtual Library.
Experts plan to relocate and restore the 1,600-year-old mosaic. (Assaf Peretz / Israel Antiquities Authority)
After documenting the mosaic’s location, the researchers transferred it to an IAA facility for preservation treatment, per the Times of Israel . It will be displayed at Yavne’s cultural center as part of a joint effort by the city, the IAA and the Israel Land Authority.
“I am happy that the mosaic will be displayed in a central location in the city so that the values embodied in its heritage are preserved and made accessible to the general public,” says IAA archaeologist Diego Barkan in a separate statement from the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
As the Jewish News Syndicate reports, experts will relocate and preserve the mosaic with technological methods used in antiquity. The public will be able to observe the process firsthand.
“Archaeological preservation and awareness of the past are important values in the life of the city, which has a magnificent history,” says Yavne Mayor Zvi Gov-Ari in the ministry statement. “In an age of progress and accelerated development in all fields of life, future generations should also be able to see how the city has evolved throughout history.”
Gov-Ari adds that the city will continue to work with the IAA to provide the public with access to artifacts from the city’s ancient past.
About Livia Gershon
Livia Gershon is a freelance journalist based in New Hampshire. She has written for JSTOR Daily, the Daily Beast, the Boston Globe, HuffPost, and Vice, among others.
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).
Daniel Varga, director of the IAA's excavations, said: The ‘fine mosaic floor decorated with coloured geometric designs’ lies in the entrance of the church and there 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.’
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 centre of Christian worship
The mosaics in what would have been the church’s nave are decorated with vines in the shape of 40 medallions, which each show a different animal, including a zebra, leopard, wild boar, turtle and winged birds as well as botanical and geometric designs.
There are also Greek inscriptions that mention two local leaders of the church, Demetrios and Herakles.
The mosaics in what would have been the church's nave are decorated with vines in the shape of 40 medallions, which each show a different animal, including a zebra, leopard (foreground), wild boar (back left), turtle and winged birds as well as botanical and geometric designs
On both sides of the central nave there are two narrow halls or side aisles, which also have coloured mosaic floors depicting botanical and geometric designs, as well as Christian symbols.
A pottery workshop, mainly for the production of jars, was also uncovered during the excavations and yielded numerous finds, including, amphorae, cooking pots, bowls and different types of oil lamps.
Glass vessels typical of the Byzantine period were also discovered at the site, and indicate a rich and flourishing local culture, archaeologists said.
On both sides of the central nave there are two narrow halls or side aisles, which also have coloured mosaic floors depicting botanical and geometric designs, as well as Christian symbols. This mosaic shows vine medallions framing birds and Greek words
t has been decided that the site (pictured) will be covered over to preserve it for future generations and the mosaic will be removed, conserved and displayed locally
Excavations by the IAA along the same road have revealed other communities from the same period, but no churches have been found until now.
It is thought people living in the area some 1,500 years ago made a living by making wine and exporting it west to the coast so it could be sold in the wider Mediterranean area.
It has been decided that the site will be covered over to preserve it for future generations and the mosaic will be removed, conserved and displayed locally.
Jewish men who study in a nearby 'yeshiva' or religious seminary, pass by the large Byzantine era church that archaeologists have uncovered. Archaeologists believe the church was an important part of a Byzantine settlement which lay on the main road running between Jerusalem and the ancient sea port of Ashkelon
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)
Byzantine mosaic unearthed in southern Israel
An exquisite 1,500-year-old mosaic has come to light in an excavation in southern Israel, the Israel Antiquities Authority announced Sunday.
The mosaic appears to have been the floor of a public building in a thriving Byzantine-era village on the site, near the modern-day kibbutz of Beit Kama. The precise role of the building in the life of the community is unknown.
The community, located along an ancient road leading north from Beersheba, also included a church, storerooms and pools for storing water.
Artists decorated the floor of the building with geometric patterns and depictions of birds like peacocks and doves. What makes the mosaic unique, beyond the high level of craftsmanship, is “the large number of motifs that were incorporated into one carpet,” according to the IAA statement.
In Byzantine times, the area around modern-day Beit Kama was home to both Christian and Jewish communities. At two other sites, Horbat Rimon and Nahal Shoval, archaeologists have unearthed ritual baths, signs of Jewish settlement.
The excavation is being conducted to allow the construction of a new traffic interchange.
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Spectacular Byzantine Church Unearthed in Israel Raises a Question: Who Was that ‘Glorious Martyr?’
The Israel Antiquities authority on Wednesday unveiled the archaeological excavations of the remains of a majestic Byzantine church constructed some 1,500 years ago near today’s Ramat Beit Shemesh, some 24 miles west of Jerusalem.
Staircase leading down to the crypt – interior view. / Yuli Schwartz, Israel Antiquities Authority.
The new exhibition, titled “The Glorious Martyr,” offered in collaboration with the Bible Lands Museum Jerusalem (BLMJ), displays for the first time the church which was adorned with spectacular mosaics intricately designed with leaves, fruit, birds, and geometrical elements. The walls of the church were decorated with colorful frescoes and lofty pillars crowned with beautiful capitals, which had possibly been imported.
Mosaic of an Eagle, the symbol of the Byzantine Empire, exposed in the floor of the church. / Assaf Peretz, Israel Antiquities Authority
The excavations exposed an architectural complex spread over 0.37 acres (1,497 square meters). Excavations in the center of the site revealed a church built according to a basilica plan – an elongated structure lined with two rows of columns that divided the internal space into three sections – a central nave flanked by two halls. A spacious courtyard (atrium) was found just outside the church’s entrance.
Mosaic exposed in the floor of the church. / Assaf Peretz, Israel Antiquities Authority
The primary stage of the church’s construction took place during the reign of Emperor Justinian (527-565 CE). Later, during the reign of Emperor Tiberius II Constantine (574-582), an exquisite side chapel was added. A fascinating inscription found intact in the courtyard dedicates the church to a “glorious martyr.”
Mosaic exposed in the floor of the church. / Assaf Peretz, Israel Antiquities Authority
According to Benjamin Storchan, director of excavation on behalf of the IAA, “the martyr’s identity is not known, but the exceptional opulence of the structure and its inscriptions indicate that this person was an important figure.
Storchan adds: “Only a few churches in Israel have been discovered with fully intact crypts. The crypt served as an underground burial chamber that apparently housed the remains (relics) of the martyr. The crypt was accessed via parallel staircases – one leading down into the chamber, the other leading back up into the prayer hall. This enabled large groups of Christian pilgrims to visit the place.”
Greek inscription at the church exposed in Ramat Beit Shemesh. / Assaf Peretz, Israel Antiquities Authority
According to Storchan, the crypt itself was once lined with marble slabs, giving it an impressive appearance, and the site’s importance is also affirmed by the expansion carried out under the patronage of Tiberius II Constantine – a Greek inscription discovered at the site states that the expansion of the church was completed with his financial support.
“Numerous written sources attest to imperial funding for churches in Israel, however, little is known from archaeological evidence such as dedicatory inscriptions like the one found in Beit Shemesh,” says Storchan. “Imperial involvement in the building’s expansion is also evoked by the image of a large eagle with outspread wings – the symbol of the Byzantine Empire – which appears in one of the mosaics.”
Thousands of youths participated in the excavation over the past three years. / Assaf Peretz, Israel Antiquities Authority
The Archaeological excavation of the site was mostly performed by thousands of teenagers, who came to dig as part of the IAA’s educational vision, aiming to connect Israeli youth to their heritage. The teens came to dig as part of their national service and IDF preparation programs, or through their high schools.
Mosaic exposed in the floor of the church. / Assaf Peretz, Israel Antiquities Authority
The excavations revealed thousands of objects, and what appears to be the most complete collection of Byzantine glass windows and lamps ever found at a single site in Israel. Additionally, a unique baptismal font in the shape of a cross was found in one of the rooms of the church, made of a type of calcite stone that forms in stalactite caves.
Mosaic exposed in the floor of the church. / Assaf Peretz, Israel Antiquities Authority
Amanda Weiss, Director General of the Bible Lands Museum says: “The vision of the Bible Lands Museum is to be a cultural and educational institution connecting its visitors to the roots of our past. We are proud of our collaboration with the Israel Antiquities Authority bringing to light these important new finds for the thousands of visitors from all faiths ages and nationalities, inviting them to appreciate the rich cultural heritage of the Land of Israel. In the words of the museum’s founder, Dr. Elie Borowski, ‘The future of mankind has its roots in the past. Only through understanding our history can we build a better future.'”