Hidden Beneath the Surface: More Ancient Mosaics Revealed in Migdal Oz of Gush Etzion

 

During conservation work of a Byzantine church in Migdal Oz last year, the Archaeology Unit of the Civil Administration discovered a mosaic floor from the 5th century, which was hidden beneath another layer of mosaic. The finding revealed the relationship between two ancient sites: a burial cave and a church.

In 2016, the Archaeology Unit of the Civil Administration uncovered an entire mosaic, which was discovered by the unit last March. Because of these findings, it is now understood that the church was established following the burial cave of saints, a pilgrimage site for a wide following of believers.


About 40 years ago, more than 11 sacred relics from the 5th century were discovered in the cave, but excavations were interrupted. The Archeology Unit of the Civil Administration only started its excavations in 2015 for the region's development in Migdal Oz. Since the start of the renewed excavations at the archeological site, a number of questions had to be clarified concerning the stages of the construction site and their duration.


These findings indicate that the church is estimated to have been completed in the mid-6th century. During the excavations and the removal of the mosaic floor for preservation, another mosaic layer was revealed which researchers believe was built during an earlier era and indicates a significant difference between the eras of the site’s construction. Currently, the Archeology Unit of the Civil Administration is dealing with research of the intermediate stage between these eras.

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According to a representative of the Archaeology Unit in the Civil Administration, Hananya Hizmi, these artifacts may indicate that the church was possibly discovered already in the 4th century and the discovery of the mosaic has completed the overall picture of development in the area. "It is amazing how a small cave led to the construction of a magnificent church, a monastery and a guesthouse," Hizmi stated. He added, "the size of the cave reveals the modesty of the people who lived in a small place, and desired to be alone and to live a life of austerity."

The church is associated with destruction in the first half of the 7th century, as part of violent events that occurred and can be concluded based on the findings, such as shattered religious artifacts, food remnants and arrowheads at the site. In addition, preliminary analysis of the animal remains were collected during the excavation and points out that pig meat, which was a staple food for the inhabitants of the place in the Byzantine period, has completely disappeared with the destruction of the church, indicating the possibility that a new population took over the region.

Archaeologists have yet to reveal one mystery: the identity of the buried saints that led to the development of the structures. The entire area outside of the church and the area located within the settlement of Migdal Oz has yet to be excavated and raises further questions about the relationship between the site and the complex of the church.

The Judea District Archaeologist in the Civil Administration, Haim Shkolnik, added, "We are talking about many structures that are found 70 meters north of the church and there, are ruins of large public structures with mosaics, pillars and rooms that have not yet been excavated. There is certainly a connection between the church and the assembly of structures, and hopefully in the near future we can perform an archaeological excavation that will enlighten us with new information about the connection between the two sites." In addition, Haim stated that "the church was built in a unique way in the land of Israel and there are no other examples of this type of church".

A representative of the Archaeology Unit of the Civil Administration added that excavation works in and around the church will continue in the coming year, as well as preservation of mosaic discoveries. "I hope the site will be made accessible to the general public so they can view the findings discovered."