JERUSALEM, Israel -- Israelis have been invited to view a spectacular mosaic floor in a Byzantine era settlement uncovered in the agricultural fields of Kibbutz Bet Kama in the Negev Desert.
Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologists uncovered the colorful mosaic during a pre-construction excavation for a highway interchange. Israeli law requires such excavations before any construction project to preserve priceless antiquities.
The dig, directed by Dr. Rina Avner, uncovered a settlement that existed some 1,500 years ago, consisting of a main structure 40 feet long and 28 feet high, most likely a public building, adorned with an intricate mosaic tile floor.
"The well-preserved mosaic is decorated with geometric patterns and its corners are enhanced with amphorae (jars used to transport wine), a pair of peacocks, and a pair of doves pecking at grapes on a tendril. These are common designs that are known from this period; however, what makes this mosaic unique is the large number of motifs that were incorporated in one carpet," the IAA said in a press release.
Archaeologists believe the settlement included residences, storerooms, a church, cistern and pools surrounded by agricultural fields and may have been used as an inn for travelers going north from Beersheva.
During the Byzantine period, Jewish and Christian communities in the Negev were built nearby one another. Two Jewish communities uncovered close by were Horbat Rimon, with a synagogue and mikveh (ritual bath) were excavated, and Nahal Shoval, also uncovered during a pre-construction dig, were mikvehs were also found.