Archaeologists have uncovered an especially large and beautiful mosaic floor as well as numerous artifacts in excavations at Hirbet Madras, in the Judean coastal plain.
The site and its secrets are in the process of being carefully preserved by Israel Antiquities Authority specialists for conservation and future presentation to the public.
According to a release issued by the Authority, the site, identified by scholars as the residence and tomb of the prophet Zecharia, has been included in Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's national heritage project.
The excavations were conducted under the aegis of the Israel Antiquities Authority in the wake of an antiquities theft during which robbers attempted to plunder an ancient underground complex.
Hirbet Madras was known as the site of a large, important Jewish community from the Second Temple period. The city was destroyed during the Bar Kochba Revolt in 135 CE.
Also uncovered were the remains of a church, as well as other buildings, caves, agricultural installations and extensive underground hiding tunnels. The site has been identified by scholars as the location of a major community.
(Israel news photo: courtesy of Israel Antiquities Authority)
In the 1980s, a lintel bearing a unique decoration discovered at the site was found to be identical to a lintel from the Hirbet Nevoraya synagogue in the north of Israel. At the time, Professor Amos Kloner and the late Dr. Zvi Ilan theorized that an ancient Jewish synagogue was located nearby.
In the wake of the illicit excavations by antiquities robbers, the lintel was rediscovered by inspectors from the Israel Antiquities Authority Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Theft. A legitimate excavation of the site soon followed, with the aim of revealing the secrets of the monumental building to which the lintel belonged.
Based on the results of the excavation, a church dating to the Byzantine period was apparently built inside a large public compound from the Second Temple period and the Bar Kochba Revolt. Eight marble columns bearing capitals especially imported from Turkey graced the nave of the basilica.
All of the floors in the building were adorned with spectacular mosaics decorated with fauna and floral patterns and geometric designs, many of which were extraordinarily well preserved, officials said.
Numerous artifacts were discovered in a subterranean hiding complex beneath the entire structure that featured rooms, water installations, store rooms and traps.
Among the items found in the rooms were coins from the time of the Great Revolt (66-70 CE) and the Bar Kochba Revolt (132 - 135 CE), stone vessels, lamps and various Jewish pottery vessels from the period.