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Press release


  • 24 August 2007

Archaeology student discovers ancient mosaic in Israel


Uncovered: The mosaic found by Sussex CCE student Diarmaid Walshe

Uncovered: The mosaic found by Sussex CCE student Diarmaid Walshe

Diarmaid Walshe at work

Diarmaid Walshe at work

An ancient floor mosaic uncovered in Israel by a University of Sussex student is being heralded as a major archaeological find.

Diarmaid Walshe, an MA student in Field Archaeology with the University's Centre for Continuing Education (CCE), made the discovery while serving as a volunteer in field work for Tel Aviv University's Institute of Archaeology during the summer break.

The beautifully designed mosaic, measuring 8m by 8m and dating back to the sixth century, depicts fruit trees, grapes and wine jugs. It was found by Mr Walshe as he excavated a room of a building at the historically important Yavneh-Yam site, near Tel Aviv. It is thought that the high-quality mosaic was the floor of a dining room in a major Byzantine villa, possibly owned by the wife of a Byzantine emperor.

Mr Walshe, who was able to join the dig for four weeks thanks to a travel bursary from CCE, said it was a once in a lifetime discovery and a dream come true.

He says: "There were several demolished buildings on the site and we had to sift through a lot of rubbish by hand. Pieces of mosaic kept turning up, so we knew something was there, but thought it had been destroyed. I found a piece of wall, traced it down to its base and came across what looked like a white plastic surface. Then I realised we'd found an actual mosaic. Then everybody got excited. Mosaics are a rare find."

The excavation, directed by Professor Moshe Fischer and Itamar Taxel of the Institute of Archaeology, is providing new insights to life in the ancient port how it developed into a major site for Christianity.

Yavneh-Yam was a seaport in Biblical times, and a hub of the Byzantine empire. Little trace of this early Christian past remains, which adds to the importance of the latest archaeological find, as it points to the port's prestigious royal links. Numerous artefacts, many bearing Christian imagery, have also been uncovered at the site providing evidence of trade ties with Egypt, Lebanon, Cyprus and the Greek Isles.

The discovery caused great excitement in the Israeli media, as the site is not officially protected and may be under threat from development. There was also a visit from the Georgian ambassador to Israel and a Georgian state television company, which is planning a documentary about the site. The site has important religious and historical significance for the former Soviet republic. A Christian bishop of Palestine of Georgian origin - Peter the Iberian - led a religious community there and is an important figure in the Georgian Orthodox Church.

The excavations on the site will continue in July/August 2008, when Mr Walshe will be leading a team to assist in the excavations. Meantime, Mr Walshe will be pursuing his archaeology studies at CCE, where he hopes to discuss his find with fellow students.

Notes for editors

  • For more information about studying archaeology at Sussex, see: CCE

 

University of Sussex Press Office contacts: Maggie Clune or Jacqui Bealing. Tel: 01273 678 888 or email press@sussex.ac.uk

 

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