Ancient mosaics turn up in surprising places. From urban London to a New York City coffee table to Italian vineyards and English fields, mosaics are unearthed across the world. The Roman Empire and the Byzantine Empire (its descendant) were especially prolific mosaic creators. Now, a stunning new example of Byzantine craftsmanship has been discovered—this time by a Palestinian farmer in Gaza who was digging in his olive grove.
Six months ago, Salman al-Nabahin was concerned about his olive trees; the plants were not successfully taking root. Al-Nabahin and his son set to digging to investigate the source of the problem. When the son's ax hit something hard like stone, the pair discovered an expansive stone mosaic depicting beautiful birds and animals. “I searched on the internet…We learnt it was mosaic belonging to the Byzantine era,” the father of seven said. “I see it as a treasure, dearer than a treasure. It isn't personal, it belongs to every Palestinian.”
The men alerted the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities. In recent months, the mosaic has been fully excavated by Palestinian researchers and international experts from the French Biblical and Archaeological School of Jerusalem. It is remarkably well-preserved and intact, dating to the 5th and 7th centuries CE. This tracks with the period of Byzantine rule in Palestine from 390 CE to around 634 CE.
“These are the most beautiful mosaic floors discovered in Gaza,” archeologist on the team, René Elter, reported, “both in terms of the quality of the graphic representation and the complexity of the geometry.” Surrounding the floor is also remnants of walls and glass artifacts. The discovery is not only gorgeous, but it also promises to teach archeologists and historians more about life in ancient Palestine.