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1,500 Byzantine Church Uncovered Near Ashkelon

22 January, 201422 January, 2014 0 comments Biblical Archaeology Biblical Archaeology
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A 1,500 year old major church with a magnificent mosaic and five inscriptions were uncovered during Israel Antiquities Authority salvage excavations. The excavations were directed by archaeologists Dr. Daniel Varga and Dr. Davida Dagan, and funded by the Israel Land Authority.

According to archaeologist Dr. Daniel Varga, directing the excavations on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, "An impressive basilica building was discovered at the site, 22 meters long and 12 meters wide. The building consists of a central hall with two side aisles divided by marble pillars. At the front of the building is a wide open courtyard (atrium) paved with a white mosaic floor, and with a cistern. Leading off the courtyard is a rectangular transverse hall (narthex) with a fine mosaic floor decorated with colored geometric designs; 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."

The main hall (the nave) has a colored mosaic floor adorned with vine tendrils to form forty medallions. The medallions contain depictions of different animals, including: zebra, leopard, turtle, wild boar, various winged birds and botanical and geometric designs. Three medallions contain dedicatory inscriptions in Greek commemorating senior church dignitaries: Demetrios and Herakles. The two were heads of the local regional church. On both sides of the central nave are two narrow halls (side aisles), which also have colored 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, kraters, bowls and different kinds of oil lamps. Glass vessels typical of the Byzantine period were also discovered at the site. The finds indicate a rich and flourishing local culture.

This church is part of a large and important Byzantine settlement that existed in the region. The settlement was located next to the main road running between Ashkelon on the sea coast to the west, and Beit Guvrin and Jerusalem to the east.

A number of other communities from the same period were uncovered in the past and there is some thought that the recently uncovered church may have been a center of worship for residents in the area. Given the many wine presses and pottery workshops discovered in the region, it is clear that the local economy made their living from the production and exportation of wine via the coast to the entire Mediterranean region.

As for the future of the site, it has been decided to cover it over and preserve it for future generations. The magnificent mosaic that has come to light will be conserved, removed from the site and displayed to the public at a regional museum or visitors' center.

The site will be open to the public for two days, Thursday and Friday January 23 and 24, 2014.

 

Government Press Office

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