Approximately two years ago, an extremely unique 1,500 year old mosaic that comprised part of the floor of an abandoned church during the Byzantine era, was discovered in archeological excavations conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority, together with the help of local schoolchildren and employees from the Qiryat Gat Industrial Park.

“There are very few mosaics with such architectural depictions on mosaic floors,” said Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologist, Dr. Rina Avner to Tazpit News Agency. “This is the first such example of depictions of main churches in various cities on the Nile.”

The mosaic depicted a number of churches and other buildings in the form of an ancient map. A Greek inscription on the mosaic indicates that the mosaic is a small map of the Egyptian settlement of Chortaso, which according to Christian tradition is the burial location of the Biblical prophet Habakkuk.

The mosaic will be on display for the public beginning October 1 in the Kiryat Gat Industrial Park throughout the Sukkot holiday festival.

“What was discovered in Qiryat Gat is an earlier mosaic than ones discovered in Transjordan with depictions of buildings that were probably basilica Churches, and inscriptions that identify them with cities along the Nile,” added Dr. Avner.

The discovery of the mosaic in Qiryat Gat apparently demonstrates that there was aesthetic influence from Israel to communities in Trans-Jordan. “The mosaic sits well with the family of the seventh century Trans-Jordanian mosaics,” Dr. Avner told Tazpit.

“But this mosaic (in Qiryat Gat) is dated earlier to the first quarter of the sixth century, (earlier than the ones in TransJordan) which indicates that there was probably an artistic influence in this pattern coming from Israel and crossing the Jordan River to later churches there.”

Dr. Avner suggested to Tazpit that there may have been some kind of relationship between the church’s congregation and the Christian communities in Egypt. “There was some kind of relationship, but I don’t know whether it’s identification, or whether it’s simply holding common beliefs or traditions,” Avner said. “I don’t know if there will ever be a clear answer.”

Sa’ar Ganor, another archaeologist from the Israel Antiquities Authority who was working with Dr. Avner on the excavation, made a statement regarding the unique usage of a number of different colors in the mosaic. “The artist utilized tesserae of seventeen different colors in preparing the mosaic,” said Ganor. “The investment in the raw materials and their quality are the best ever discovered in Israel.”

Avner told Tazpit that she was not only amazed “at the number of colors, but the application of the colors in various technological methods that give the illusion of light and day in such a persuasive way.”

Avner also referred to the impressive attribution of shade and color to the many tinier details in the mosaic. “You see the usage of very tiny stones of various colors, as well as the usage of light and shades in the different shapes of the stones,” commented Avner. “The expressions of the different animals on the mosaic was also impressive.”

Dr. Avner also had time to reflect on the excavation process of the mosaic. “I think what’s unique about this project is that it was not only initiated by archaeologist Sa’ar Ganor but also the whole community of Qiryat Gat as the mosaic was excavated with the help of the workers from Intel and other hi-tech firms in Qiryat Gat,” said Avner.

“It was also special working with the third generation in the field,” added Avner. “It was a social project, rather than simply being a clear-cut scientific endeavor.”

By Jonathan Benedek
Tazpit News Agency