The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) revealed to the public on Wednesday an impressive archeological find. Law in Israel states that before to any type of new construction, the land on which the construction is to take place must be excavated. A salvage excavation, prior to the construction of a new neighborhood at Moshav Aluma in the Shafir Regional Council, uncovered 1,500 years worth of history.
Headed by archeologists Dr. Daniel Varga and Dr. Davida Dagan, the excavation revealed magnificent mosaics in pristine condition and five inscriptions from the Byzantine time period (330-638 CE). Dr. Varga and Dr. Dagan believe that “The Church probably served as a center of Christian worship for neighboring communities.”
The church itself is situated in what once was a large and important Byzantine settlement. The settlement, which was located near the main road that ran between Ashkelon on the coast to western Israel and cities such as Beit Guvrin and Jerusalem to the east, is believed to have “made its living from the production and exportation of wine via the coast to the entire Mediterranean region.”
Dr. Varga explained: “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 (nave) is designed with a colored mosaic floor containing images of vine tendrils that form to create forty medallions. Each medallion depicts different animals such as a zebra, leopard, turtle, wild boar, various winged birds, botanical, and geometric designs. Three of the medallions depict inscriptions in Greek that are meant to commemorate the senior church dignitaries Demetrios and Herakles who were the heads of the local regional church.
Each side of the nave is lined by two narrow halls (side aisles) which also contain similar colored mosaic floors, geometric and botanical designs, and numerous Christian symbols.
Next to the church, a pottery workshop was also discovered. The workshop is believed to be mainly for the production of jars such as amphorae, cooking pots, kraters, bowls, and different types of oil lamps. Glass containers which were very common in the Byzantine period were also discovered at the site.