Mosaic adds to Israel's rich historical tapestry

27th Jan 2014

In a magnificent country as ancient as Israel, notable excavations are commonplace.

But future tourists on city breaks to bustling Tel Aviv may one day be able to take in one of the best finds in its recent archaeological history following a discovery in a 1,500 Byzantine church.

An old mosaic depicting a menagerie of animals from birds to leopards has been unearthed in the south of the country.

The detailed artwork was discovered when the church was dug up.

It boasts Greek symbols, which researchers claim show it once acted as a hub for Christian worship.

Officials have already agreed the location will be covered over to preserve it for forthcoming generations. The mosaic will be taken away, conserved and exhibited in the local area.

The church ruins were found before an infrastructure project in Aluma, around 30 miles (50km) south of Tel Aviv.

Tourists visiting Israel with an interest in history are already spoiled for choice.

In Jerusalem alone, they can enjoy cultural sites such as the Western Wall, the Dome of the Rock, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the fortress of Masada.

But archaeologists believe the latest finding will also be of significant historic interest to tourists.

They think the church was a key feature of a Byzantine community, which lay on the main road linking Jerusalem with the ancient sea port of Ashkelon.

Specialists from the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) found marble pillars and the mosaic floor in the basilica, which spans 72ft by 39ft.

Daniel Varga, director of the IAA's excavations, said the discovery includes Greek inscriptions which include the names Mary and Jesus as well as Christian symbols.

The mosaics are decorated with vines in 40 medallion shapes.

Each depicts a different animal, including a zebra, leopard, wild boar, turtle and winged birds.

Copyright Press Association 2014

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