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Archaeological Discoveries: 1,500 Year Old Mosaic Exposed in Southern Israel

(May 2013)

A spectacular colorful mosaic dating approximately 1,500 years to the Byzantine period - roughly between the 4th and 6th centuries - was exposed in the fields of Kibbutz Bet Qama, in the B’nei Shimon regional council in southern Israel. The mosaic was discovered within the framework of an archaeological excavation led by the Israel Antiquities Authority prior to the construction of an interchange between Ma’ahaz and the Devira Junction.

Remains of a settlement that extends across more than six dunams were uncovered in the excavation directed by Dr. Rina Avner of the Israel Antiquities Authority. The main building at the site was a large hall, 12 meters long by 8.5 meters wid,e and its ceiling was apparently covered with roof tiles. The hall’s impressive opening and the breathtaking mosaic that adorns its floor suggest that the structure was a public building. 

The well-preserved mosaic is decorated with geometric patterns and its corners are enhanced with amphorae (jars used to transport wine), a pair of peacocks, and a pair of doves pecking at grapes on a tendril. These are common designs that are known from this period; however, what makes this mosaic unique is the large number of motifs that were incorporated in one carpet. 

Pools and a system of channels and pipes between them used to convey water were discovered in front of the building. Steps were exposed in one of the pools and its walls were treated with colored plaster (fresco). Archaeologists in the Antiquities Authority are still trying to determine the purpose of the impressive public building and the pools whose construction required considerable economic resources. 

The site, which was located along an ancient road that ran north from Beersheva, seems to have consisted of a large estate that included a church, residential buildings and storerooms, a large cistern, a public building and pools surrounded by farmland. Presumably one of the structures served as an inn for travelers who visited the place. 

During the Byzantine period, Jewish and Christian settlements in the region were located next to each other. Two of the nearby Jewish settlements are Horbat Rimon, where a synagogue and ritual bath (mikva) were exposed, and the Nahal Shoval antiquities site where more ritual baths were uncovered.

Sources: Israel Antiquities Authority