The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) announced today that a 1,500 year-old Byzantine monastery with large floor mosaics has been found. The complex was found near a Bedouin village by the name of Hura and is located in the Negev Desert. The monastery was measured at 115 feet by 65 feet and is arranged on an east-west axis. This east-west arrangement is common among Byzantine churches. The facility contains both a dining room and a prayer hall which are embellished with detailed patterns including birds, flowers, baskets, animals, and leaves.
IAA officials state that there are Greek and Syriac inscriptions which include important historical information such as the names of the monastery’s abbots and the dates from when the floors were laid. The abbots’ names were Nonus, Solomon, Eliyahu, and Ilrion. The dates indicate that the floors were constructed in the latter half of the sixth century.
Even after so many years, the mosaic tiles are still vibrantly colored in red, blue, green and yellow. In addition to the elaborate tile floors in the dining hall and prayer room, there are four tiled service rooms in a western wing. These four rooms are floored with white tiles. Additionally, archaeologists located glass artifacts, pottery, kraters, and coins from the period.
The Byzantine monastery was found during a salvage excavation, a common practice in areas which may be in archaeologically rich locations such as Israel. Construction projects may easily destroy or cover hidden ruins so salvage excavations are performed prior to any projects. In this instance, the diggings were done in anticipation of an interchange on Israel’s Highway 31. At this point, officials state that the monastery will be relocated.
During another pre-construction excavation prior to widening a different road, Highway 38, excavators found a house discovered to be 10,000 years old. The house, located approximately 15 miles from Jerusalem, is one of the oldest in the region. When archaeologists dug before the construction of a bridge on Highway 44, they found a mosaic fountain and traces of an estate that was approximately 900 years old. An expansion of the main road between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, Highway 1, uncovered animal figurines that were 9,500 years old. The same road expansion also uncovered what was found to be a ritual building from the First Temple era. The rich ancient history of Israel often means that construction projects or pre-construction excavations uncover historical items.
This most recent discovery is located near Horbat Hur, a Byzantine settlement. A statement issued by the excavation director Daniel Varga indicated that this just one monastery in a series located along the road linking the Be’er Sheva Valley with Transjordan. The excavations were done in preparation of a new interchange which will be built in the area. This monastery, near the Byzantine settlement and found by the IAA, will be moved to the Israel Wadi Attir tourism and agricultural project. The Wadi Attir tourism are is located next to Hura. The project was begun to model sustainable and community based organic farming practices using green technologies including recycling, land stewardship, and renewable energy production.
By Dee Mueller
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