Israel, army soldiers unearth 1,500-year-old convent with mosaic floor

As part of an educational project, Israeli army soldiers unearthed a 1,500-year-old Byzantine convent with a mosaic floor.

In central Israel’s Horbat Hani, in the foothills east of Shoham, Israeli soldiers have unearthed a 1,500-year-old nunnery.

The Byzantine convent was first excavated 20 years ago by Uzi Dahari and Yehiel Zelinger of the IAA, theIsrael Antiquities Authority, but was later covered over to protect it. Thanks to the project carried out in collaboration with the army that participated in the excavation, it is now visible again.

According to Issy Kornfeld, director of excavations on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, "Recently, a small part of the ancient site was damaged during army activities in the military zone. In this context, the Israel Antiquities Authority, together with the Nature Defense Forces program, initiated an educational project, under which this impressive site was reopened and cleaned up under the guidance of the Israel Antiquities Authority’s Community Educational Center.“ ”Two buildings were uncovered in the original excavation,“ Kornfeld continued, ”one of which was a church paved with a colorful mosaic depicting faunal and plant scenes, an entrance hall, nuns’ dormitories, hermit cells, a tower with rooms and a crypt, an underground burial complex. The other building included a kitchen, a refectory and an inn for pilgrims. There is evidence that the convent preserved a tradition related to women. Archaeologist Eitan Klein, who works at the Israel Antiquities Authority, said that the Horbat Hani convent may have commemorated the burial place of the biblical Hannah, wife of Elkanah, who gave birth to a son, the prophet Samuel, after promising to dedicate him to the service of God.

According to Kornfeld, “as is often the case in the ancient world, the convent was erected here to commemorate an ancient tradition, perhaps of the burial place of Hannah, mother of the prophet Samuel.” The original excavation also unearthed some female skeletons, possibly of women, buried in close proximity to the sanctified figure of Hannah.

According to Eli Eskosido, director of the Israel Antiquities Authority, "The IAA’s joint initiative with theIDF Nature Defense Forces Project creates an opportunity for every soldier and army officer. Theadoption of archaeological sites on army bases and military zones and the creation of archaeological exhibits on army bases further solidify the strong link between the defense of the State of Israel and the protection of ancient sites and our cultural heritage."

The church mosaic is now partially visible, subject to the permission of the IDF Central Command.

Image: Aerial view of the mosaic. Photo by Idan Yunish, Israel Antiquities Authority.

Israel, army soldiers unearth 1,500-year-old convent with mosaic floor
Israel, army soldiers unearth 1,500-year-old convent with mosaic floor

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