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Digging History

Byzantine-era church uncovered in Israel

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    One of the mosaic floors discovered at the site. (Yoli Shwartz/Israel Antiquities Authority)

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    A little girl cleans one of the mosaic floors discovered at the site of a Byzantine-era church in Israel. (Yoli Shwartz/Israel Antiquities Authority)

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    The excavation site. (Yoli Shwartz/Israel Antiquities Authority)

A 1,500-year-old church complete with a sophisticated mosaic was uncovered by archaeologists in southern Israel.

The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) say the Byzantine-era structure "probably served as a center of Christian worship for neighboring communities."

The discovery was made during a routine salvage excavation conducted by the IAA prior to the construction of a new neighborhood in the area.

The building is approximately 72 feet long by 40 feet wide and consists of a central hall with two side aisles divided by marble pillars. An open courtyard at the front of the structure is paved with a white mosaic floor and a cistern.

Directly off of the courtyard is a rectangular hall with another more intricate mosaic floor with colored geometric designs.

Including among the finds are five inscriptions, one of which mentions Mary and Jesus.

"At its center, opposite the entrance to the main hall, 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," archaeologist Daniel Varga said in a press release.

The main hall has a mosaic with depictions of a variety of animals including zebra, leopard, turtle and wild boar. The designs also include Christian symbols.

Archaeologists also discovered glass vessels, oil lamps, amphorae, cooking pots, kraters, and bowls. These finds "indicate a rich and flourishing local culture" during the Byzantine period.

In order to preserve the site, it will be covered with dirt and the IAA is making plans to remove the mosaic floors to be put on display.

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