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Byzantine-Era Church Mosaic Floor in Shoham to Open to the Public

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Two Israel Antiquities Authority workers clean a mosaic floor in the remains of a 1500-year-old church which archeologists say was built in honor of a ‘glorious martyr’, whose identity is unknown, in Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel October 23, 2019. Photo: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun. – A 1,500-year-old church floor adorned with colorful floral mosaic designs, located east of Ben-Gurion Airport and first identified four decades ago but left uncovered, will soon be accessible for public viewing, the Israel Antiquities Authority announced Monday.

The fine mosaic is part of the archaeological site of Horvat El-Bira, located in the Shoham Industrial Zone and along the Israel National Trail hiking path.

“When we first came to the site, the mosaic was covered over with earth and weeds. Over the last month we have been uncovering and cleaning up the site together with the local community,” said Yair Amitzur, director of the Israel Antiquities Authority Central Region Education Department.

“We are working here amongst a carpet of flowering anemones. One can just imagine that the artist of the flower-adorned mosaic was inspired by the surroundings,” Amitzur said.

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A Roman-period rural villa was located at the site, and agricultural processing installations and several buildings that served the ancient residents are extant today, the Antiquities Authority said.

In the Byzantine period, a church was built, located alongside the road that connected the coastal area with the Judean Shephelah lowlands, now crossed by a modern highway. The ancient road had “rest stops” every few miles that offered travelers a place for recovery and prayer.

“It seems that the site was settled from the Iron Age or earlier, possibly as early as the Chalcolithic period [i.e., the Copper Age], and down to the Islamic period,” said Anan Azab, Israel Antiquities Authority director for the Central District.

The restoration and cleaning of the site is being carried out by the Shoham community and by Israel Antiquities Authority volunteers from around the country in the context of “Good Deeds Day.”

The Israel Antiquities Authority and the Shoham Local Council have also set up a seating area for the benefit of hikers and the locals.

“It is very moving to meet good people who voluntarily enlist to enhance the local heritage, and to create a fine seating area along the Israel Trail,” said Eli Escuzido, director of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

“This type of activity reflects the Israel experience at its best. The archaeological heritage can be found throughout the country; one only has to raise one’s eyes, or perhaps look down on the ground to see it,” he said.

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