Archaeologists uncover well-preserved 1,500-year-old Georgian church mosaic in Israel

A fortress at Ashdod-Yam in Ashdod, Isreal is featured in this image. | Wikimedia Commons/Bukvoed

The Israeli Antiquities Authority has announced the discovery of well-preserved remains of 1,500-year-old colored mosaic from a Georgian church or a monastery in Israel's coastal city of Ashdod.

According to The Jerusalem Post, the mosaic was discovered at the ancient tel, or archaeological mound, of Ashdod-Yam in August during an excavation headed by Dr. Alexander Fantalkin of Tel Aviv University's Archeology and Ancient Near Eastern Civilizations Department, and Prof. Angelika Berlejung of Leipzig University.

The mosaic floor features a Greek inscription indicating the year of the church's construction and dedicating the building to a prominent bishop in the sixth century.

"[By the grace of God (or Jesus)], this work was done from the foundation under Procopius, our most saintly and most holy bishop, in the month Dios of the 3rd indiction, year 292," the inscription stated.

According to Dr. Leah Di Segni, of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the date on the inscription corresponds to the year 539 A.D., making it the earliest known appearance of the use of the Georgian calendar in Israel.

Leading archaeologists believe that the new discovery could be part of the long-lost ruins of Ashdod-Yam, a Byzantine city known in the classical sources as Azotos Paralios.

Breaking Israel News noted that Ashdod-Yam, or Ashdod by the Sea, was one of the most important coastal cities in Israel during the Byzantine period.

It was said to be an outpost and the sister city of the Biblical Ashdod, which stood a few kilometers inland to the north, but it became its own entity during the Iron Age and expanded to a city known as Azotos Paralios in the Byzantine period.

"Ashdod-Yam, known in sources from the period as Azotus Paralios, covered a large area, and the renowned Madaba Map shows it with public buildings, including churches and a street flanked by colonnades," the Antiquity Authority said.

The authority's Ashkelon district archeologist Sa'ar Ganor said that this would be the first time that a Georgian church or monastery has been unearthed on the Israeli coast.

Experts believe that the rest of the Byzantine city could be hidden beneath the dunes by the modern southern Israeli city of Ashdod.

"We know from historical sources and a representation on the Madaba map (a contemporary mosaic map located in Jordan, from the sixth century) that the region's center of gravity shifted from Ashdod to Ashdod-Yam during the Byzantine period," Fantalkin said.

"Obviously, the ruins of the Roman-Byzantine city of Ashdod-Yam are waiting beneath the dunes," he added.

The archaeologists are hoping to learn more about the roles of Ashdod and Ashdod-Yam in the history of early Christianity in their further investigation of the complex.