Byzantine mosaic discovered in Israel

 

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Stunning 1,500-year-old church mosaics displaying exotic birds, leopards and zebras unearthed in Israel

  • Artwork was found when a major Byzantine church was excavated
  • Features Greek symbols, turtles, zebras, flowers and geometric shapes
  • Church was likely to be a major centre of Christian worship in Aluma, around 30 miles south of Tel Aviv

By Sarah Griffiths

PUBLISHED: 06:00 EST, 23 January 2014 | UPDATED: 06:03 EST, 23 January 2014

An ancient mosaic showing a menagerie of animals from birds to leopards, has been unearthed in southern Israel.

The intricate artwork was found when a 1,500-year-old Byzantine church was excavated and has Greek symbols, which archaeologists say shows that it once served as a centre of Christian worship.

The church ruins were discovered during excavations ahead of an infrastructure project in Aluma, some 30 miles (50km) south of Tel Aviv, Israel.

An ancient mosaic showing a menagerie of animals from birds (pictured) to leopards, has been unearthed in southern Israel in a town near Tel Aviv

 

An ancient mosaic showing a menagerie of animals from birds (pictured) to leopards, has been unearthed in southern Israel in a town near Tel Aviv

THE BYZANTINE MOSAIC
  • The mosaic was discovered in a 1,500-year old church in Aluma, 30 miles south of Tel Aviv, Israel.
  • It features an intricate design of twisting vines that frame 40 medallions.
  • Each medallion frames an animal, plant or Greek inscription.
  • Animals in the mosaic include a leopard, zebra, turtle, wild boar and many birds.
  • The central mosaic in the basilica measures 72ft by 39ft (22 by 12metres)
  • 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 lies in the church’s entrance hall.
  • Other smaller designers mainly feature geometric designs as well as religious motifs.

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.

‘The church probably served as a centre of Christian worship for neighbouring communities,’ they said.

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 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

 

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

 

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

 

It 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

 

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)

 

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)

 

 

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