Archaeologists uncovered a large Byzantine Age compound west of Jerusalem, with a rarely preserved oil press, a wine press and a mosaic, the Israel Antiquities Authority announced Thursday.
“This was very likely a monastery,” excavation director Irene Zilberbod said in a statement.
A spokesperson with the Antiquities Authority said the first clues of the compound were stumbled upon in recent weeks, during construction work on a new residential neighbourhood in the town of Bet Shemesh, some 35 km west of Jerusalem, Xinhua reported.
Excavations later revealed a massive compound surrounded by an outer wall and divided on the inside into industrial and residential areas.
In the industrial area, the archaeologists found an unusually large press that was uniquely preserved and was used to produce olive oil, and a large wine press. The wine press consisted of two treading floors from which the grape could flow to a collecting vat.
“The finds indicate the local residents were engaged in wine and olive oil production for their livelihood,” Zilberbod said.
She added that the impressive size of the agricultural installations shows that these facilities were used for production on an industrial-scale rather than just for domestic use.
Several rooms were exposed in the residential portion of the compound, some of which had a colourful mosaic pavement preserved in them. One of the mosaics was adorned with a cluster of grapes surrounded by flowers set within a geometric frame. Two entire ovens used for baking were also found in the compound.
Zilberbod said that although they found no unequivocal evidence of religious worship — such as a church or an inscription — the compound holds typical features of Byzantine monasteries.
“The impressive construction dating back to the Byzantine period. The magnificent mosaic floors, windows and roof tile artifacts, as well as the agricultural-industrial installations inside the dwelling compound, are all known to us from numerous other contemporary monasteries,” Zilberbod said.
“Thus it is possible to reconstruct a scenario in which monks resided in a monastery that they established, made their living from the agricultural installations and dwelled in the rooms and carried out their religious activities.”
At some point, which the archaeologists dated to the beginning of the Islamic period (7th century A.D.), the compound ceased to function and was subsequently occupied by new residents. They changed the plan of the compound and adapted it for their needs, the archaeologists said.
I found more information athaaretz.com