Impressive archaeological finds, including a magnificent mosaic featuring Greek inscriptions, were uncovered in a church some 1,500 years old during Israel Antiquities Authority salvage excavations, prior to the construction of a new neighborhood at Moshav Aluma in southern Israel.
The basilica building discovered at the site was 22 meters long and 12 meters wide and was said to be part of a Byzantine settlement located next to the main road running between Ashkelon on the Mediterranean coast to the west, and Beit Guvrin and Jerusalem to the east. Previous excavations along the road had found traces of other communities from the same period, but no churches.
The splendid mosaic floor also dating back to the Byzantine period was discovered in the church’s main hall and features 40 decorative medallions. Three medallions contain dedicatory inscriptions in Greek commemorating the senior church dignitaries Demetrios and Herakles, who served as heads of the local regional church. The other mosaics depict different animals, botanical and geometric designs, as well as Christian symbols.
Greek inscriptions were also found in the rectangular transverse hall of the church, called a narthex. “The twelve-row dedicatory inscription in Greek contained the names Mary and Jesus and the name of the person who funded the mosaic’s construction,” mentioned director of the excavations Dr. Daniel Varga. All the finds indicate a rich and flourishing local culture.
“The church probably served as a center of Christian worship for the neighboring communities,” the Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologists said. Wine presses and pottery workshops found in the region attest to the economy of the local residents during the Byzantine period, who made their living from producing and exporting wine via the coast to the entire Mediterranean region.