Archaeological dig in central Israel uncovers Byzantine church and 2700-year-old farm

Dual find gives glimpse into how the area near Rosh Ha'Ayin changed due to drought and the spread of Christianity.

Aerial view of monastery found in central Israel (Griffin Aerial Imaging)
A community excavation overseen by the Antiquities Authority in the center of the country has unearthed a rare and well-preserved 2,700-year-old farmhouse and 1,500-year-old church featuring colorful mosaics and numerous Greek inscriptions, the authority announced on Wednesday.
The findings were discovered during an excavation in Rosh Ha’ayin initiated by the Construction Ministry in coordination with the city’s municipality prior to building new neighborhoods in the area.
“So far, scores of teenagers from preparatory programs and youth villages have participated in the excavation, as part of the Israel Antiquities Authority policy of increasing public awareness of our cultural heritage,” the authority said in a statement.
According to excavation director Amit Shadman, roughly 2 meters of the 30 m. by 50 m. farmhouse – which was built in a central courtyard and once contained 24 rooms – have been preserved since the dig started.
Among the findings were a large storage silo intended to protect exposed grain, said Shadman.
“It seems that carbohydrates were as popular then as now, and the growing and processing of grain were fairly widespread in the rural-agricultural region,” he explained.
“This was corroborated by other discoveries in the field, which included numerous millstones, which were used to grind the grain into flour,” the archeologist continued. “In addition, we found simple rock-hewn oil presses used in the production of olive oil.”
Among the other artifacts that were exposed in the farmhouse’s remains were two silver coins from the 4th century BCE that bear the likenesses of the goddess Athena and the Athenian owl, he said.
Shadman said the farmstead and other similar ones operated for centuries until the region was abandoned in the Hellenistic period.
“Many hundreds of years later, during the 5th century CE, another settlement wave – this one being Christian – arrived in the area and changed the landscape,” he said. “Among other things, the rapid spread of Christianity at that time is apparent, as evidenced by the many impressive rural churches and monasteries that have been exposed.”
Meanwhile, Shadman said the unearthed monastery dating to the Byzantine period, which was exposed on one of the hills in the area, once housed a church, an oil press, residential quarters and stables equipped with mangers and troughs.
“The floors of the church that was built in the monastery were made of colorful mosaics that included geometric and other designs,” he said.
“In addition, a Greek inscription ascribed to a priest named Theodosius (a common name in the Byzantine period) was revealed in one of the mosaics, stating: ‘This place was built under Theodosius the priest. Peace be with you when you come, peace be with you when you go, Amen.’” Hundreds of years after the monastery ceased to function, he said, a lime kiln was built there during the Ottoman period, which destroyed large parts of the monastery.
“Given the impressive finds uncovered in the excavations, it was decided that the ancient remains will be conserved in situ and will be displayed in the communal areas of the new neighborhoods that will be open for the benefit of the public,” Shadman said. •