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Ornate Byzantine floor mosaic discovered by olive farmer in Gaza

J-P Mauro - published on 09/24/22

The artwork is considered "the most beautiful floor mosaic ever discovered in Gaza" but it's at risk because of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

A Palestinian farmer’s olive grove has become the site of an archaeological excavation after an extensive Byzantine-era floor mosaic was found under the olive trees. The artwork, believed to date between the 5th and 7th centuries, depicts birds and animals while featuring brilliant geometric patterns.

Smithsonian Magazine reports that the farmer, Salman al-Nabahin, made the discovery while investigating why one of his olive trees did not take proper root. After his shovel hit something hard under the dirt, al-Nabahin called his son for help. Soon the pair were knee-deep in soil excavating the first of several mosaic panels. 

Al-Nabahin commented on the find: 

“I see it as a treasure, dearer than a treasure. It isn’t personal, it belongs to every Palestinian.”

Excavation

The father-son team had stumbled upon an ancient Byzantine floor mosaic that turned out to be one of the finest specimens ever excavated in Gaza. Al-Nabahin quickly brought the find to the attention of the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, which began a formal excavation of the site with the French Archaeology School. 

Now, six months later, the effort has uncovered three separate sections of floor mosaics. The largest of these measures 6 ft by 9 ft. According to the AP, the mosaic contains 17 iconographies of beasts and birds. The color is said to be particularly well preserved and its geometric designs are being hailed as some of the finest of the Byzantine age. 

René Elter, an archaeologist from the French Biblical and Archaeological School of Jerusalem, commented: 

“These are the most beautiful mosaic floors discovered in Gaza, both in terms of the quality of the graphic representation and the complexity of the geometry,” Elter told the AP. “Never have mosaic floors of this finesse, this precision in the graphics and richness of the colors been discovered in the Gaza Strip.”

Since the mosaics have been uncovered, al-Nabahin has been covering them with sheets of tin in order to protect them from the elements, but more steps will be needed to preserve this piece of history. Located about half a mile from the Israeli border, the site is at risk of being damaged by the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine, as well as in danger of looting.

Hamas leadership, which rules the territory, is expected to make a major announcement on the discovery and its future in the coming days. 

Read more at Smithsonian Mag.

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ArchaeologyMiddle East
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