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Culture

Rare 1,500-year-old mosaic discovered in Jerusalem

A sixth-century mosaic floor containing a Greek inscription has been uncovered in Jerusalem's Old City. Dubbed an "archaeological miracle," the rare find sheds light on Jerusalem's largest Christian church at the time.

A mosaic floor bearing the names of Byzantine Emperor Justinian and senior Orthodox priest Constantine has been found near the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem, the Israel Antiquities Authority announced Wednesday.

An inscription, written in Greek and dating to AD 550/551, was on the 1.14-meter (3 feet 7 inches) by 80-centimeter mosaic - making it an extraordinary find.

"Direct text and letters from people back then are relatively rare," David Gellman, director of the excavation in Jerusalem's Old City, told AFP news agency.

"The fact that the inscription survived is an archaeological miracle," Gellman said in a statement.

Breakthrough discovery at the last minute

It was by chance that archaeologists came upon the rare find, located a meter below street level. Gellman and his team had been asked to conduct a routine examination before communications cables were to be laid in the area.

"We were very close to closing the excavation when I noticed that a few of the mosaic stones, which were otherwise plain white, were at a different angle and seemed to be a little darker," Gellman recalled. "I cleaned up that small corner… and found that it was the bottom left corner of the inscription itself."

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The inscription reads, "The most pious Roman emperor Flavius Justinian and the most God-loving priest and abbot, Constantine, erected the building in which this (this mosaic) sat during the 14th indiction."

Used for taxation purposes, indiction was an ancient method of counting years, which allowed the archaeologists to date the inscription to the mid-sixth century.

Justinian, an important ruler during the Byzantine era in the Roman Empire, established the Nea Church in Jerusalem in AD 543, in which the mosaic was found and where Constantine was an abbot. It was one of the largest Christian churches in the eastern Roman Empire and also the largest in Jerusalem at the time.

Experts hope the discovery will contribute to their understanding of Justinian's building schemes.

The area where the mosaic was uncovered, near the Damascus Gate in east Jerusalem, is now the main entryway to the Old City's Muslim Quarter. During the Six-Day War in 1967, Israel annexed that territory in a move that has since not been recognized by the international community.

kbm/eg (Reuters, AFP, dpa)

 

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