Israel’s Negev yields ‘breath taking’ monastery site

Archaeologists uncover Byzantine art

Archaeologists in Israel have uncovered the remains of a 1,500-year-old Byzantine monastery in the Negev desert described as “breath-taking”.

Located near the northern Bedouin village of Hura, the 20 x 35 metre complex, till now lost to the desert sands, was discovered during preparatory work for an interchange from the country’s Highway 31 involving the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Conforming to a traditional east-west axis, the complex comprises a series of halls most apparent in an aerial shot of the site.

However, it is the dining and prayer halls of the site which have caused most excitement among scholars locally, with their offerings of near-pristine mosaics in vibrant colours. Photographs of the mosaics reveal floral motifs, birds and baskets. More importantly, one, in Greek and Syriac, records the names of four of the monastery’s abbots – Eliyahu, Nonus, Solomon and Ilrion – and dates the laying of the specific floors, all but gifting the archaeological team an historical record in tile of the site.

In addition to the floors, the dig has revealed a large haul of pottery vessels and coins, adding both to the historical record and to the belief that the monastery was a relatively rich community, dating to the latter half of the 6th Century.


As if all of this were not enough, scholars are now actively investigating the possibility that the Hura site is just one in a series of similar monasteries waiting to be discovered under the sands of the Negev; in announcing the treasures yielded by Hura, Daniel Varga, leader of the dig said: “It seems that this monastery is one monastery in a series situated alongside a road that linked Transjordan with the Be’er Sheva‘ Valley.”

The Hura team is now formulating plans to move the entire monastery site intact from the path of the proposed Highway 31 interchange.

Photo courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority