1,500-year-old church found in Israel
2 February 2011
HIRBET MADRAS, Israel — Israeli archaeologists today presented
a newly uncovered 1,500-year-old church in the Judean hills, including
an unusually well-preserved mosaic floor with images of lions, foxes,
fish and peacocks.
The Byzantine church located southwest of Jerusalem, excavated
over the last two months, will be visible only for another week
before archaeologists cover it again with soil for its own protection.
The small basilica with an exquisitely decorated floor was active
between the fifth and seventh centuries A.D., said the dig's leader,
Amir Ganor of the Israel Antiquities Authority. He said the floor
was "one of the most beautiful mosaics to be uncovered in Israel
in recent years."
"It is unique in its craftsmanship and level of preservation,"
Archaeologists began digging at the site, known as Hirbet Madras,
in December. The Antiquities Authority discovered several months
earlier that antiquities thieves had begun plundering the ruins,
which sit on an uninhabited hill not far from an Israeli farming
Though an initial survey suggested the building was a synagogue,
the excavation revealed stones carved with crosses, identifying
it as a church. The building had been built atop another structure
around 500 years older, dating to Roman times, when scholars believe
the settlement was inhabited by Jews.
Hewn into the rock underneath that structure is a network of tunnels
that archaeologists believe were used by Jewish rebels fighting
Roman armies in the second century A.D.
Stone steps lead down from the floor of church to a small burial
cave, which scholars suggest might have been venerated as the burial
place of the Old Testament prophet Zechariah.
Ganor said the church would remain covered until funding was obtained
to open it as a tourist site.
Israel boasts an exceptionally high concentration of archaeological
sites, including Crusader, Islamic, Byzantine, Roman, ancient Jewish
and prehistoric ruins.
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