With help from over 1,000 teenaged volunteers, archeologists recently unearthed the well-preserved remains of a 1,500-year-old Byzantine- era monastery and church in Beit Shemesh decorated with colorful mosaic tiles and imported marble antiquities.
The excavation, supervised by the Antiquities Authority, is being conducted ahead of the expansion of Ramat Beit Shemesh, located some 30 kilometers west of Jerusalem.
The building may have served as a meeting ground for pilgrims, according to Benyamin Storchan, director of the excavation for the Antiquities Authority.
“We were surprised by the wonderful state of preservation of the ancient remains, and the richness of the finds being uncovered,” he said on Wednesday.
“The artifacts found in the large building, which seems to be a monastic compound, may indicate that the site was important and perhaps a center for ancient pilgrims in the Judean Shfela [Judean foothills] region.”
During the excavation, Storchan said, the teens and archeologists uncovered walls built of large worked stone masonry, as well as a number of architectural elements, including a marble pillar base decorated with crosses and marble window screens.
“The marble artifacts were brought from the region of Turkey, and further inland by wagon,” he said. “In one of the rooms we uncovered a beautiful mosaic floor decorated with birds, leafs, and pomegranates.”
Storchan continued: “We already know of a number of ancient churches and monasteries in the Judean Shfela, but this one has outstanding preservation.”
Until now, only a small portion of the monastery has been uncovered, which was abandoned in the 7th century CE for unknown reasons, he said.
Since the excavation began last summer, teenagers from various groups and organizations, including schools and pre-military associations, have participated.
“We searched for a way to fund-raise for our class trip to Poland, and we decided to take part in the archeological excavations,” said Hadas Keich, a 16-year-old student at the Sde Boker Field School. “Little by little, we uncovered exciting finds here, which helped to connect us to our country and its history.
“Amazing what is hidden here beneath our feet!” Keich said.
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