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Archaeological Discoveries: Ancient Mosaic Recovered from Palestinian Thieves

(February 2006)

A mosaic seized from Palestinian antiquities thieves appears to have been cut from the floor of a previously unknown synagogue that dates back to the 7th century, an archaeologist said Tuesday.

If the ruins of the synagogue do exist, it would be a significant find because archaeologists know of few such Jewish sanctuaries from the period, when Muslims ruled the area, said Amir Ganor, an archaeologist who also serves as an investigator for an authority that prevents antiquities thefts.

The work of art has Jewish insignia, including the words in Hebrew for  “Peace Unto Israel,” part of a Jewish candelabra and palm branches, Ganor said. Tests have proven almost without a doubt that the mosaic is authentic and dates back to the 7th century, he said. Only a few more tests are needed to confirm its authenticity, Ganor said.

“This is a very significant find, because we know of only one synagogue from this period, in (the West Bank town of Jericho),” Ganor said.

The piece of mosaic measures about 60 centimeters by one meter (2 feet by 3 feet), Ganor said.

The work of art, especially the handwriting, strongly resembles one at the Jericho synagogue, which also includes the inscription “Peace Unto Israel,” a Jewish candelabra and a palm branch, Ganor said.

Investigators have learned that the mosaic was stolen from the ruins of the synagogue, somewhere in the area of the West Bank city of Ramallah, Ganor said. The archaeologists do not know exactly where the synagogue is located. Much of the area is controlled by the Palestinian Authority, as is Jericho.

Israeli archaeologists received information several weeks ago that a piece of a mosaic was stolen from a previously unknown synagogue, Ganor said. Acting on the information, Israeli security forces conducted searches and raids and found the mosaic in east Jerusalem in the car of a known Palestinian antiquities thief, Ganor said.

The suspect and one other Palestinian with him were arrested but have refused to tell investigators where they found the mosaic, Ganor said.

Sources: AP, (February 9, 2006)