An extraordinary mosaic from the Byzantine era has been discovered in Kibbutz Bet Qama in southern Israel, according to the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA). The massive installation is estimated to be around 1,500 years old.
The mosaic was discovered when Israel made plans to extend Highway 6, the Trans-Israel Highway. A survey of the proposed route uncovered the remains of a Byzantine village, of which the mosaic floor was the most outstanding find, according to Haaretz.
The mosaic served as the floor of a building measuring 40 feet by 26 feet. Based on its size and ornamental nature, the IAA excavation team believes it was a public building.
The mosaic is composed of three circles inscribed in squares and filled with geometric patterns, according to Live Science. The edges of these shapes are adorned with doves, partridges, citrus fruit and amphorae, ancient wine jugs.
"The find of this mosaic is extraordinary; the size of it and the [condition] goes beyond what is usually found," IAA archeologist Davida Eisenberg Degen told Live Science. "This is an unusual find."
Byzantine mosaics have long been recognized for their exquisite detail and beauty. Some of the most famous Byzantine mosaics are found in Ravenna, Italy, which served as the capital of the Roman and then Byzantine Empires for 350 years.
The area of modern Israel where the mosaic was found was controlled by the Byzantines from the mid 4th century until the mid 7th century. During the Byzantine period, argues University of South Dakota History Professor Clayton Miles Lehmann, "Palestine enjoyed its greatest prosperity and most extensive urbanization until the twentieth century."
The IAA noted that the Byzantine settlement near Kibbutz Bet Qama was situated on an ancient road that, like the modern Trans-Israel Highway, linked northern Israel to Be'er Sheva and the Negev desert. According to Haaretz, the same Israeli land survey that found the mosaics also uncovered the ruins of ritual baths, or mikvehs, in southern Israel. These structures indicated the existence of previously unknown Jewish settlements in the Negev.