All posts by Archaeology World Team

Ancient Viruses Buried in Tibetan Glaciers for 15,000 Years Discovered by Scientists

Ancient Viruses Buried in Tibetan Glaciers for 15,000 Years Discovered by Scientists

In the Tibetan plateau of China the Earth’s oldest glacial ice is found. It is home to a group of frozen viruses for more than 15,000 years, most of them until now unknown.

Scientists have now pointed out that viruses and have warned that more and more infections could also appear as climate change continues to melt more and more ice

Two Tibetan glacier ice cores were studied by the team and unveiling the presence of 28 previously unknown virus groups. Investigating them will be key to learn which viruses have developed in different climates over time, researchers argued in their paper on server bioRxiv.

Ancient Viruses Buried in Tibetan Glaciers for 15,000 Years Discovered by Scientists

“The microbes differed significantly across the two ice cores, presumably representing the very different climate conditions at the time of deposition that is similar to findings in other cores,” the researchers wrote, claiming the experiment will help to establish a baseline for glacier viruses.

Sampling ice cores is no easy feat. You not only have to do it in the right conditions to ensure that the ice is unaffected, but you also have to ensure that no contamination is caused.

The team created a protocol for ultraclean microbial and viral sampling, applying it to two preserved ice core samples from 1992 and 2015.

These cores were not handled in a way that prevents contamination during drilling, handling, and transportation — which means that the exterior of the ice was most likely contaminated. In order to avoid this effect, researchers only analyzed the inside of the core, which was presumed to be unaffected.

The team worked in a cold room at minus 5 degrees Celsius (23 degrees Fahrenheit) to access the inner part of the cores, using a saw to cut 0.2 inches (0.5 centimeters) of ice from the outside later.

Then, the team used ethanol to wash and melt another 0.2 inches of ice and then sterile water to wash another 0.2 inches. This allowed them to access the inner layer to do their study, having in total shaved off about 0.6 inches or 1.5 centimeters of ice of the sample.

A total of 33 groups of viruses were found in the ice cores, of which 28 were completely new to science. “The microbes differed significantly across the two ice cores,” the researchers wrote, “presumably representing the very different climate conditions at the time of deposition.”

The growing temperatures of the world because of climate change is melting glaciers across the planet, so these viral archives could soon be lost, the researchers said. But that’s not the only bad news, as the ice melt could challenge our ability to stay safe from them.

“At a minimum, [ice melt] could lead to the loss of microbial and viral archives that could be diagnostic and informative of past Earth climate regimes,” they wrote. “However, in a worst-case scenario, this ice melt could release pathogens into the environment.”

Archaeologists re-excavate hidden Roman bath after 130 years

Archaeologists re-excavate hidden Roman bath after 130 years

The bath was first discovered and excavated 130 years ago, but was then quickly back-filled and poorly recorded.

Period 1 plunge bath, Roman Baths

Measuring 4 metres x 5 metres, it is one of eight baths known at the Roman Baths site and is beneath York Street next to the main suite of baths.

Stephen Clews, Manager of the Roman Baths, said: “The excavation of this bath is part of the most significant archaeological investigations to have taken place at the Roman Baths for more than 30 years.

It is helping us to build a picture of what was happening on the south side of the site, where it has been very difficult to gain access in the past.”

Period 1 plunge bath, Roman Baths

The excavation of the bath is part of a wider programme of investigation taking place as part of the National Lottery-funded Archway Project, which is creating a new Clore Learning Centre for the Roman Baths and a World Heritage Centre for the city.

The position of the bath means that it cannot be seen by visitors on a normal visit to the Roman Baths.

The excavation is being carried out for the Roman Baths by Cotswold Archaeology.

The Archway Project is run by Bath & North East Somerset Council, which owns and operates the Roman Baths, with the support of The National Lottery Heritage Fund, The Clore Duffield Foundation, The Roman Baths Foundation, the Garfield Weston Foundation and hundreds of other supporters and donors.

Aquae Sulis was a small town in the Roman province of Britannia that is now modern-day Bath.

The Romans had probably arrived in the area shortly after their arrival in Britain in AD 43 and there is evidence that their military road, the Fosse Way, crossed the river Avon at Bath.

Not far from the crossing point of their road, they would have been attracted by the large natural hot spring which had been a shrine of the Celtic Brythons, dedicated to their goddess Sulis.

This spring is a natural mineral spring found in the valley of the Avon River in Southwest England, it is the only spring in Britain officially designated as hot. The name is Latin for “the waters of Sulis.”

The Romans identified the goddess with their goddess Minerva and encouraged her worship that helped the native populations adapt to Roman culture.

The spring was built up into a major Roman Baths complex associated with an adjoining temple. About 130 messages to Sulis scratched onto lead curse tablets (defixiones) have so far been recovered from the Sacred Spring by archaeologists.

Earliest Mosaic in the World Found in Turkey

World’s Oldest Mosaic Unearthed in Turkey

The earliest known mosaic in the world, Anacleto D’Agostino from Pisa University records, is a primitive tiled floor laid in a geometric design that is discovered in a pre-classic Hittite city in central Turkey. Moreover, he adds, the settlement where the mosaic was found maybe the lost Hittite city of Zippalanda.

Discovered during the excavation of prehistoric Usakli Hoyuk, the multichromatic patterned surface is in the courtyard of a public building – which archaeologists interpret to be a temple to the Storm God, D’Agostino writes in Antiquity, published by the Cambridge University Press. Made of stones of varying size and shape, the Late Bronze Age floor is also the earliest-known rendition in the rock of geometric patterns.

Since 2008, the Anatolian Archaeological Project in Central Anatolia has been revealing the ancient town’s long history. They have found fragments of cuneiform tablets indicating that it was once a major Hittite center. 

Dr. Anacleto D’Agostini of Pisa University, who took part in the mission, wrote that the site may be the “lost Hittite city of Zippalanda,” according to Haaretz.

The stone Bronze Age mosaic floor is in the foreground.

During work on the site, a large building on a terrace, which dated to the Late Bronze Age, was found. This had the characteristics of a building that was constructed during the Hittite period. It was believed to be a temple that was possibly dedicated to the Storm God, a very important deity for the Hittites and other populations. 

Near this possible temple, a courtyard was located, and it was here that archaeologists made the remarkable discovery of a mosaic.  The experts found a paved floor that measured about 20 ft by 9 ft (7m by 3m), which was poorly preserved.

The floor was paved with some 3000 pieces of stone, that appeared to have been roughly shaped and cut. Haaretz quotes D’Agostini as saying that “the mosaic was framed with perpendicularly positioned stones in white, black-blue and white again”. 

Closeup of the Bronze Age mosaic at Usa̧klı Höyük.

Unlike later mosaics, it was not made out of smooth and small stones.  All the stones that were found were cut in irregular shapes and the floor would not have had a smooth finish.

According to Haaretz “one wonders how comfortable it was to walk on and one envisions a lot of twisted ankles.” However, the mosaic was possibly deliberately made to be uneven so that slippery mud would not form on its surface.

The stones have been clearly set to produce geometric patterns using divergent colors reports Antiquity.

The mosaic is divided into three distinct areas, and each one contains a number of triangles. It is discerned to have been created at the same time as the Hittite temple because it is closely aligned with its eastern wall.

D’Agostino is quoted by Haaretz as saying that the “building and mosaic are characterized by ‘high-status architecture’” and this lends credence to the theory that indeed the unearthed structure was the Temple of the Storm God.

The discovery of this Bronze Age mosaic at a Hittite site is astonishing. Flagstone and cobblestone, often painted, have been found at sites associated with this Bronze Age culture.  They have been found in temples and even private rooms. However, no decorative mosaics have been found ever, until this one at Uşaklı Höyük.

“The technique of making mosaic floors using different colored pebbles is well known during the Iron Age,” according to the report in Antiquity. 

There are many examples of checkerboard mosaic floors from the Iron Age. But until the discovery at Uşaklı Höyük, the earliest known mosaic had been found in southern Anatolia at the 9 th century BC Phrygian Gordion citadel.

Aerial shot of the excavation area shown, including the Storm God Temple and the Bronze Age mosaic are (highlighted in yellow).

However, the discovery of a Bronze Age mosaic floor at Uşaklı Höyük is considerably older than anything yet found. Moreover, the design of the mosaic was much more complex than anything found from the time. Antiquity reports that the find “provides the first evidence of a polychromatic mosaic floor with clear patterning.”

It is possible that the mosaic may represent an older tradition from Anatolia. Antiquity reports that the pavement “could represent a Late Bronze Age Anatolian forerunner for later polychromatic mosaic floors.”

The discovery may indicate that the art of mosaic making developed much earlier than widely believed and this could provide new clues into its stylistic development. The find may result in the experts re-writing the history of images made out of polychromatic stones, an art-from that reached its zenith in the Classical Period in the Mediterranean. 

Mount Vesuvius eruption ‘turned victim’s brain to glass’

Mount Vesuvius eruption ‘turned victim’s brain to glass’

According to a new analysis of their bones, the remains of those trapped by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius tell a story of tragic suffering.

The Vesuvius erupted and buried cities such as Pompeii, Oplontis and Stabiae under the ash on August 24th in the year 79 A.D. Pompeii was preserved by the volcanic ash and has become a unique archaeological site. But mudflows and giant, sweeping clouds of hot, toxic gas and volcanic matter destroyed the wealthy coastal town of Herculaneum. The site is near what is now known as Naples in Italy.

The people of Herculaneum saw this eruption with a cruel twist and actually tried to escape its destructive path by evacuating on boats along the waterfront.

Vesuvius is the only active volcano in mainland Europe. Photograph: Alberto Incrocci/Getty Images
Plaster casts of victims of the Mount Vesuvius eruption, which destroyed the Roman city of Pompeii in AD79.

“Herculaneum is interesting because of its position,” said Tim Thompson, study author and professor of Applied Biological Anthropology at Teesside University in England. “It gives a snapshot into the way in which these people responded and reacted to the eruption, which you do not get at Pompeii.”

But the beach and vaulted stone boathouses became the final resting place for hundreds of residents. Many of those who died on the beach were adult or young adult men, and a significant number of those who died in the boathouses included women and children.
The boathouses, known as fornici, were first discovered in 1980.

Three separate excavations of the vaulted spaces have revealed the remains of at least 340 people. They became trapped in the boathouses when volcanic clouds swiftly descended on the town, likely moving as rapidly as 1,565,900 miles per hour.

Initially, researchers believed that the skin and soft tissue of the people were vaporized by the heat, initially estimated to reach between 572 and 932 degrees Fahrenheit. That vaporization would have killed them instantly. But a research team decided to re-examine the skeletons using new bone analysis techniques to determine how they died. Their findings published Thursday in the journal Antiquity.

The researchers discovered that the bodies had not been exposed to the high temperatures expected with the volcano’s pyroclastic flow or massive cloud of toxic gas and material. Based on their study of the ribs from 152 of the skeletons, and the discovery of collagen still within the bones, the temperatures they faced stayed below 752 degrees Fahrenheit. Collagen gelatinizes into a jelly-like substance above 932 degrees Fahrenheit.

Bone structure changes in response to heat due to its mineral content, which exists in the form of tiny crystals. And more collagen remained in the bones than expected.

“The heat causes some changes externally, but not necessarily internally to the bones,” Thompson said. “What was interesting was that we had good collagen preservation but also evidence of heat-induced change in the bone crystallinity. We could also see that the victims had not been burned at high temperatures.”
The boathouses also helped keep the harshest of the heat from reaching them.

A 3D map of some of the bodies in one of the boathouses.

Unfortunately for Vesuvius’ victims, that means they lived long enough to be baked alive in the stone boathouses while suffocating from toxic fumes, according to the researchers.

“Although these people died, it wasn’t through instant soft tissue vaporization,” Thompson said. “They hid for protection and got stuck. The walls of the fornici, as well as their own body mass, dispersed the heat in the boathouses, which more closely relates to baking.”

In a separate study published this week in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers analyzed a Vesuvius victim’s skull and found the remains of a brain that had been vitrified, or turned into a glass-like substance by the heat.

The remains were also recovered in Herculaneum, and belonged to a person found lying facedown on a wooden bed that was buried by volcanic ash, according to the study. The bones were charred from the intense heat the person suffered after the eruption.

Although the remains were found in the 1960s, the glass-like remnants? of the person’s brain were recently uncovered in the skull. They found a glassy black substance, and further investigation revealed that it included several proteins associated with brain tissue, along with adipic and margaric fatty acids found in sebum and hair. These were not found in any of the surrounding material at the site.

The glass-like remains of the brain.

Charred wood enabled them to determine that temperatures reached 968 degrees Fahrenheit at the site. The researchers believe that the extreme heat ignited the person’s body fat, vaporized soft tissue and vitrified the fatty proteins of the brain.

The researchers noted that the preservation of brain tissue at such old sites, or the vitrification of it, is incredibly rare. The only other past instance of this they could find for comparison happened to victims of firestorms during World War II.

“Considering the discovery of vitrified brain remains from a victim of the 79 AD Vesuvius eruption, it may be of some interest to the scientific community to open a discussion on the process of vitrification occurring in human remains,” the researchers wrote.

Medieval Priest’s Remains Unearthed in England

Medieval Priest’s Remains Unearthed in England

Over 50 burials unearthed by archaeologists in the Lincoln Cathedral included a remarkable medieval priest burial.

A skeleton is believed to be that of a medieval priest found, who had been buried in the area that is now the building’s West Parvis.

The priest had been carefully buried with a pewter chalice and paten, used during communion and key symbols of the work of the priest. Similar examples have been dated to as far back as the 12th and 13th centuries.

His burial is just one of more than 50 found immediately around the cathedral; from the West Front at the main entrance to the Dean’s Green to the north.

The burials were found during excavations by Lincoln-based Allen Archaeology Ltd as part of the National Lottery-funded Lincoln Cathedral Connected project. The excavations were to enable drainage works and landscaping around the cathedral.

The area between the West Front of the Cathedral and the neighboring Exchequergate Arch is known to have been used as a burial ground for the cathedral and the church of St Mary Magdalene in the Bailgate. Part of the area of the Dean’s Green was also used as a burial ground for the cathedral, as were the many green spaces surrounding it.

Excavating the priestly burial.

In addition to the skeletons excavated during the project, several other historic artifacts are currently being studied and dated. Some will be displayed as part of the new Lincoln Cathedral visitor center, which is due to open in summer 2020.

Other finds from the excavations include a hand from a statue that may be from a very early frieze, and a coin depicting the face of Edward the Confessor, the last king of the House of Wessex, who ruled from 1042 to 1066. The coin was minted between 1053 and 1056, so pre-dates the building of the current Cathedral.

Evidence was also uncovered of high-status Roman buildings in the area of the new visitor’s center, which is within a building previously used as a deanery.

Highly-decorated painted wall plaster from three different rooms, a near-complete incense burner, a perfume jar, and a Roman spoon were among the notable finds.

Some of the Roman wall plaster was painted with intricate flowers and leaves design, while the rest features colored bands. It may be possible for some to be reconstructed in the near future.

Edward the Confessor coin which is at least 964 years old.

Natasha Powers, Senior Manager at Allen Archaeology, said: “Since our work began on the Cathedral as part of the Connected project in 2016, we have uncovered significant evidence of Lincoln’s medieval, Saxon and Roman past.

“The objects we have found are not only beautiful and interesting in themselves but importantly they enable us to better interpret the lives of those who occupied the city in previous centuries.”

The decorated Roman plaster discovered at Lincoln Cathedral.
The decorated Roman plaster discovered at Lincoln Cathedral.

The overall project includes vital restoration and renovation works to the iconic building, which is due to be completed in 2022.

Further discoveries are expected after the excavation of Roman and medieval features around the gothic landmark.

The 2,000-year-old gladiator’s helmet discovered in Pompeii’s ruins

The 2,000-year-old gladiator’s helmet discovered in Pompeii’s ruins

The centerpiece of today’s presentation in Melbourne is a gladiator’s helmet, left in the ruins of Pompeii. The 2,000-year-old bronze helmet is one of 250 items brought together at the Melbourne Museum to illustrate life in the ancient city.

Brett Dunlop, the museum curator, says the helmet survived the Vesuvius and was recovered 200 years ago.

In the most likely storeroom in the gymnasium region, a large number of gladiator helmets and shoulder guards were found, “he said. ‘Most definitely the gladiators who were able to would have fled away when the volcano was erupting and a large number of pieces of their equipment were left behind.

The helmet would have been worn by ‘murmillo’, a type of gladiator during the Roman Imperial age. The distinguishing feature of the murmillo was the high crest of his helmet which, together with its broad rim, was shaped somewhat like a fish. The murmillo took his name from this fish-shaped helmet; the word comes from the Greek word for a type of saltwater fish.

Otherwise, he wore a loincloth, belt, short greaves on the lower parts of his legs, a linen arm protector to protect his right arm, and the curved rectangular shield of the Roman legionary. He also carried the legionary’s short, straight sword, or gladius, from which gladiators derived their name.

The murmillo usually fought gladiators styled after ancient Greek fighters, with whom he shared some of the same equipment (notably arm guards and greaves).

A galea was a Roman soldier’s helmet. Some gladiators, myrmillones, also wore a bronze galea with a face mask and a decoration, often a fish on its crest.

The exact form or design of the helmet varied significantly over time, between differing unit types, and also between individual examples – pre-industrial production was by hand – so it is not certain to what degree there was any standardization even under the Roman Empire.

Originally, Roman helmets were influenced by the neighboring Etruscans, people who utilized the “Nasua” type helmets. The Greeks in the south also influenced Roman design in the early history of Rome.

For instance, the ancestor of the Chalcidian helmet, the Attic helmet, was widely used by officers until the end of the empire. Lastly, the Gauls were the peoples who most impacted the design of the Roman helmet hence the popular “Imperial Gallic” type helmets. In addition to this, it is commonly thought that the Gauls also introduced chainmail to the Romans.

The primary evidence is scattered archaeological finds, which are often damaged or incomplete. There are similarities between form and function between them.

A number of ancient authors, including Valerius Maximus and Quintillian, assert that he also regularly battled the net fighter. It would certainly have been a logical pairing, contrasting a slow but heavily armoured gladiator with a fast but lightly equipped one.

Examples of the pairing between murmillones and other gladiator types can be seen in frescos and graffiti in Pompeii. In one well-preserved example, a murmillo named Marcus Atillus, who is credited with one match and one victory, is depicted standing over the defeated figure of Lucius Raecius Felix, a gladiator with 12 matches and 12 victories.

His opponent is shown kneeling, disarmed and unhelmeted. The graffiti records that Felix survived the fight and was granted his freedom. A gladiator (Latin: gladiator, “swordsman”, from gladius, “sword”) was an armed combatant who entertained audiences in the Roman Republic and Roman Empire in violent confrontations with other gladiators, wild animals, and condemned criminals.

Some gladiators were volunteers who risked their legal and social standing and their lives by appearing in the arena. Most were despised as slaves, schooled under harsh conditions, socially marginalized, and segregated even in death.

Irrespective of their origin, gladiators offered spectators an example of Rome’s martial ethics and, in fighting or dying well, they could inspire admiration and popular acclaim. They were celebrated in high and low art, and their value as entertainers was commemorated in precious and commonplace objects throughout the Roman world.

The origin of gladiatorial combat is open to debate. There is evidence of it in funeral rites during the Punic Wars of the 3rd century BCE, and thereafter it rapidly became an essential feature of politics and social life in the Roman world. Its popularity led to its use in ever more lavish and costly games.

The games reached their peak between the 1st century BCE and the 2nd century CE, and they finally declined during the early 5th century after the adoption of Christianity as the state church of the Roman Empire in 380, although beast hunts (venationes) continued into the 6th century

Misplaced 2,000-year-old ring unearthed in Jerusalem’s City of David

Misplaced 2,000-year-old ring unearthed in Jerusalem’s City of David

Some 2,000 years ago, a Jewish penitent misplaced a bronze ring during his climb of a 600-meter-long (about 2,000 feet) pilgrims’ thoroughfare leading to the Temple Mount.

While the recently recovered ring is today heavily corroded, its central blue semi-precious stone still sparkles.

The ring was recently discovered at the City of David’s Sifting Project in Emek HaTsurim, in a bucket of dirt excavated from a structure on the side of the broad 7.5-meter (24-feet) -a wide road that is thought to have housed a ritual bath, or mikveh. 

According to the City of David archaeologists, the worshiper likely lost the ring when fresh from ritual purification prior to his ascent to the Temple Mount.

For the past seven years at the City of David National Park in Jerusalem, archaeologists have been excavating a now-subterranean stairway that once served as a main artery to the Temple Mount, beginning at the intersection of the Kidron and Ben Hinnom Valleys.

“Every step on this street brought the pilgrims closer to the Temple,” said City of David archaeologist Nahshon Szanton, in a recent video tour of the site.

“Imagine to yourselves the joy, the songs, the prayers, the spiritual journey that these people experience when they know they are just meters away from reaching the gates of the Temple,” he added while climbing the monumental staircase.

The pilgrims’ road, which ascends from the Pool of Siloam to the Jewish Temple, dates to no earlier than 30-31 CE, during the time of the notorious Roman governor Pontius Pilate. In the short video, Szanton emphasized that this was the period when Jesus was sentenced to death.

According to the City of David, the Herodian road was lined with shops and businesses to serve the thousands of pilgrims to Jerusalem on the major holidays.

The broad road is a monumental achievement: Szanton estimates that some 10,000 tons of quarried rock were used in its construction.

The road was built above a complex drainage system, which rebels hid in 40 years after the Pilgrims’ Path’s construction as the Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE.

A 2,000-year-old bronze ring with a solitaire gemstone was uncovered in archaeological excavations in the City of David National Park in Jerusalem.

The drainage channel “was essentially a manmade tunnel,” according to the City of David, and was built underneath the Herodian Road. Its ceiling is made of the rectangular paving stones of the pilgrim’s road above.

The ring is perhaps a testament to a final period of peace, in which pilgrims could still safely climb the path to the Temple Mount and freely worship.

In a statement released by the City of David, archaeologists Szanton, Moran Hajbi, Ari Levy, and Dr. Joe Uziel said, “Just like today, it would appear that in the past, rings and jewelry were removed before bathing, and sometimes forgotten. This phenomenon, perhaps, is behind the discovery of the ring in what appears to be a ritual bath.”

The ring is a very human reminder of the people who ascended the path prior to the temple’s destruction, said the archaeologists.

“This ring allows us to personally connect with an individual’s personal story from 2,000 years ago. The ring, along with other finds, can shed light and expose the lives of people during the Second Temple period,” they said.

Archaeologists have uncovered a stunning 1,600-year-old biblical mosaic in northern Israel.

Mind-blowing 1,600-year-old biblical mosaics paint a new picture of Galilean life

The spectacular biblical mosaic of 1600 years old found in Northern Israel was discovered by archaeologists.

On the site of a Synagogue in Huqoq from the fifth century, the mosaic was discovered, which depicts a scene in the book of Exodus.

Director of Excavation Jodi Magness, Professor in Chapel Hill at the University of North Carolina, said the mosaic was the first depiction of the episode of Elim from Exodus 15:27 ever found in ancient Jewish art.

“Elim is where the Israelites camped after leaving Egypt and wandering in the wilderness without water,” she explained in a statement, noting that the mosaic is separated into three registers or horizontal strips.

One register showed clusters of dates being harvested by loincloth-clad agricultural workers while another showed a row of wells and date palms, she explained.

“On the left side of the panel, a man in a short tunic is carrying a water jar and entering the arched gate of a city flanked by crenellated towers. An inscription above the gate reads, ‘And they came to Elim’,” Magness added.

Archaeologists also discovered mosaics depicting four beasts described in Chapter 7 of the Book of Daniel. The beasts represented four kingdoms preceding the end of days.

A detail from the Elim mosaic.

“The Daniel panel is interesting because it points to eschatological, or end of the day, expectations among this congregation,” said Magness, in the statement.

“The Elim panel is interesting as it is generally considered a fairly minor episode in the Israelites’ desert wanderings ­­– which raises the question of why it was significant to this Jewish congregation in Lower Galilee.”

The mosaics have been removed from the site for conservation.

Magness and the archaeological team during the summer 2019 dig at Huqoq.
Magness and the archaeological team during the summer dig at Huqoq.

The excavation marked the ninth year of digs at the Huqoq site. The first mosaics were discovered in 2012. Between 2014 and 2017, archaeologists discovered mosaics depicting Noah’s Ark, the parting of the Red Sea, Jonah and the fish and the Tower of Babel, painting a fascinating picture of life at the ancient site.

In 2018 researchers also announced the discovery of a stunning mosaic depicting a biblical scene from Numbers 13:23. Labeled “a pole between two,” the panel showed two spies sent by Moses to explore the biblical land of Canaan.

Another mosaic discovered at Huqoq includes a depiction of Samson. There also has been an ongoing debate about whether a mosaic uncovered in 2016 portrays Alexander the Great.

The purported Alexander the Great mosaic was the first non-biblical story ever found decorating an ancient synagogue.

A mosaic depicting the building of the Tower of Babel.

Experts said the wealth of mosaics show that Jewish life in the surrounding village flourished during Christian rule in the fifth century. This challenges a widely held view that Jewish settlement in the area declined during that period.

“Our work sheds light on a period when our only written sources about Judaism are rabbinic literature from the Jewish sages of this period and references in early Christian literature,” said Magness, who noted it showed only the viewpoint of the men who wrote it. Additionally, early Christian literature generally was hostile to Jews and Judaism.

The parting of the Red Sea mosaic.

“So, archaeology fills this gap by shedding light on aspects of Judaism between the fourth to sixth centuries CE – about which we would know nothing otherwise,” Magness explained. “Our discoveries indicate Judaism continued to be diverse and dynamic long after the destruction of the second Jerusalem temple in 70 CE.”

A mosaic depicting Jonah being swallowed by a fish.

The Huqoq Excavation Project has involved experts from a host of universities, including Baylor University, Brigham Young University and the University of Toronto, as well as the Israel Antiquities Authority and Tel Aviv University.