Byzantine-era monastery uncovered at Israel construction site

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An Israel Antiquities Authority volunteer uncovers a mosaic floor, part of the remains of a 1,500-year-old Byzantine era monastery and church, recently discovered in the southern hills of Israeli city of Beit Shemesh, on December 20, 2017

The remains of a monastery dating back 1,500 years, including a mosaic floor adorned with birds, have been unearthed at an Israeli construction site, the Antiquities Authority said Wednesday.

The Byzantine-era monastery, which includes a church, was uncovered during excavations ahead of the expansion of an ultra-Orthodox neighbourhood in the city Bet Shemesh.

The Antiquities Authority director of the dig, Benyamin Storchan, said his team was "surprised by the wonderful state of preservation of the ancient remains, and the richness of the finds being uncovered."

Artifacts uncovered include a marble pillar base decorated with crosses and marble window screens from Turkey, as well as the elaborate mosaic floor featuring birds, leaves and pomegranates.

"The richness found at the site suggests that complex may have been a main pilgrimage site in the Judean Shephelah region," Storchan said in a statement, noting the existence of other ancient churches and monasteries in the area which lies west of Jerusalem.

The Antiquities Authority, which has been conducting the excavation dig since the summer, has been aided by 1,000 teenagers.

A spokeswoman for the Antiquities Authority said it was still unclear what would become of the finds once the construction work resumed.

"One thing is certain: the mosaic will be preserved, but we do not know if it will remain at the spot or transferred elsewhere," she told AFP.

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