Archaeologists of the Israel Antiquities Authority have discovered what they say is an ancient compound with ‘industrial-scale’ wine and oil presses.
The Byzantine-era compound with oil and wine presses. Image credit: Griffin Aerial Photography Company / Israel Antiquities Authority.
“We believe this is the site of a monastery from the Byzantine period,” said Dr Irene Zilberbod, excavation director of the IAA.
“It is true we did not find a church at the site or an inscription or any other unequivocal evidence of religious worship. Nevertheless, the impressive construction dating to the Byzantine period, the magnificent mosaic floors, window and roof tile artifacts, as well as the agricultural-industrial installations inside the dwelling compound are all known to us from numerous other contemporary monasteries.
“Thus it is possible to reconstruct a scenario in which monks resided in a monastery that they established, made their living from the agricultural installations and dwelled in the rooms and carried out their religious activities.”
The compound was found near the city of Bet Shemesh, about 30 km west of Jerusalem.
It is surrounded by an outer wall and is divided into two parts: an industrial area and an activity and residential area.
“An unusually large olive press was exposed in the industrial area. A large winepress revealed outside the built compound consisted of two treading floors from which the grape must flowed to a large collecting vat.”
Mosaic floor at the archaeological site. Image credit: Assaf Peretz / Israel Antiquities Authority.
The finds indicate that monks were engaged in the production of wine and olive oil.
“The impressive size of the agricultural installations shows that these facilities were used for production on an industrial-scale rather than just for domestic use,” the archaeologists said.
“In the residential portion of the compound several rooms were exposed, some of which had a mosaic pavement.”
“Part of a colorful mosaic was exposed in one room where there was apparently a staircase that led to a second floor that is not preserved. In the adjacent room another multi-colored mosaic was preserved that was adorned with a cluster of grapes surrounded by flowers set within a geometric frame.”
“Two entire ovens used for baking were also exposed in the compound.”