The well-preserved remains of a 1,500-year-old colored mosaic floor from a Georgian church or monastery was unearthed during an excavation in the coastal city of Ashdod, the Antiquities Authority announced this week.
The mosaic was discovered in August at the ancient tel, or archeological mound, of Ashdod- Yam, under the direction of Dr. Alexander Fantalkin of Tel Aviv University’s Archeology and Ancient Near Eastern Civilizations Department, and Prof. Angelika Berlejung of Leipzig University.
According to the authority, the mosaic includes a fourline Greek commemorative inscription dedicated to the structure’s builder, Bishop Procopius, as well as the year of its construction, based on the Georgian calendar.
“[By the grace of God (or Jesus)], this work was done from the foundation under Procopius, our most saintly and most holy bishop, in the month Dios of the 3rd indiction, year 292,” it states.
Notably, Dr. Leah Di Segni, of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who deciphered the inscription, said the date, according to the Georgian calendar, corresponds to the year 539 CE, making it the earliest appearance of the use of the Georgian calendar in Israel.
“This was many years before it was used in Georgia itself,” Segni said.
The ancient city of Ashdod-Yam on the coast of what is now the southern part of the city of Ashdod was one of the most important cities on the coast of Israel in the Byzantine period.
“Ashdod-Yam, known in sources from the period as Azotus Paralios, covered a large area, and the renowned Madaba Map shows it with public buildings, including churches and a street flanked by colonnades,” the Antiquity Authority said.
The authority’s Ashkelon district archeologist Sa’ar Ganor noted that Ashdod is believed to be home to the largest community of Jews of Georgian origin in the world.
“Testimony to the presence of the actual Georgians in the Land of Israel as far back as the Byzantine period has been found dozens of kilometers from Ashdod, [as well as in] Jerusalem and its surroundings,” said Ganor. “But this is the first time that a Georgian church or monastery has been discovered on the Israeli coast.”
Ganor continued: “It’s interesting that, like today, Ashdod was a focus of attraction for Georgians.”
The archeologist added that according to historical sources, the famous Georgian prince and bishop Peter the Iberian lived in Ashdod-Yam before his death.
“And now, it seems that we have uncovered actual evidence of his influence on the Byzantine city of Ashdod-Yam,” he said.
“This public structure, which has only now begun to come to light, is part of an extensive archeological complex in the southern part of modern Ashdod. We are now hard at work to raise additional funds to continue the archeological excavation of Ashdod-Yam.”