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1,500-year-old Church

February 3, 2011 by staff 

1,500-year-old Church, (CP) – Israeli archaeologists say they have discovered 1500-year-old church, including an unusually well preserved mosaic floor with statues of lions, foxes, fish and peaccks. Amir Ganor of the Israel Antiquities Authority said the church in the hills southwest of Jerusalem was active between the fifth and seventh centuries AD

Archaeologists began digging after discovering that thieves were looting the site. Ganor said archaeologists a mosaic “unique in its workmanship and the level of conservation.” Although initially identifying the building as a synagogue, they concluded it was a Byzantine church.

Reporters were given a brief glimpse of the mosaic Wednesday. It is covered again until funding becomes available for its proper preservation.

(AP) – Israeli archaeologists presented a newly discovered 1500 years old church in the hills of Judea on Wednesday, including an unusually well-preserved mosaic floor with statues of lions, foxes, fish and peaccks.

The Byzantine church located southwest of Jerusalem, excavated in the past two months, will be visible only for even one week before the archaeologists re-covered with earth for his own protection.

The small basilica with a beautifully decorated floor was active between the fifth and seventh century AD, said the dig leader, Amir Ganor of the Israel Antiquities Authority. He said the floor was “one of the finest mosaics to be discovered in Israel in recent years.”

“It is unique in its workmanship and the level of preservation,” he said.

Archaeologists began digging at the site known as Madras Hirbet in December. The Antiquities Authority discovered a few months earlier that antiquities thieves began to plunder the ruins, which sit on a deserted hillside not far from an Israeli agricultural community.

Although an initial investigation, the building was a synagogue; the excavation revealed stones carved with crosses, identified as a church. The building was built on top of another structure about 500 years old, dating back to Roman times, when scientists believe that Jews inhabited the settlement.

Carved into the rock beneath the structure is a network of tunnels that archaeologists believe were used by the Roman Jewish rebel armies in the second century AD

Stone staircase leads from the floor of a small church cemetery cave; scholars suggest that might be revered as the burial place of the Old Testament prophet Zecharia.

Ganor said the church would remain until funding was obtained to open as a tourist site.

Israel has an exceptionally high concentration of archaeological sites, including Crusader, Islamic, Byzantine, Roman, ancient Jewish and prehistoric ruins.

Copyright © 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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