1,200-year-old luxurious estate discovered in Israel
Posted in Medievalists.net
August 24, 2022

1,200-year-old luxurious estate discovered in Israel

Archaeologists in Israel have discovered a 1,200-year-old luxurious estate in the Negev Desert. The site includes a unique vaulted complex overlying a three-meter-deep rock-hewn water cistern.

The archaeological excavations were carried out by the Israel Antiquities Authority ahead of new construction in Rahat, a predominantly Bedouin town near Gaza. The building they uncovered dates to 8th to 9th centuries CE. It was constructed around a central courtyard, and it comprised four wings with rooms to serve the needs of the residents. In one wing, there was a hall paved with a marble and stone floor and walls decorated with frescoes (wall paintings on damp plaster). The extant small fresco fragments were finely coloured in red, yellow, blue and black.

Aerial view of the rural estate uncovered in Rahat, with the vaulted complex in the centre. The estate is the first of its kind discovered in the Negev. Aerial photographs: Emil Aladjem Israel Antiquities Authority

Other rooms in the building had plaster floors, and in other rooms, very large ovens—probably for cooking—were uncovered. Amongst the small finds were fragments of delicate decorated glass serving dishes.

Artifacts retrieved in the rural estate. Photograph: Yoli Schwartz, Israel Antiquities Authority

“This is a unique discovery unknown until today,” explains Oren Shmueli, Dr. Elena Kogan-Zehavi and Dr. Noé D. Michael, the directors of the Israel Antiquities Authority excavations. “We were surprised to discover a complex of stone-built vaults at a depth of 5.5 m below the courtyard, standing to a height of 2.5 m. The vaults were carefully constructed, and they probably led into additional underground complexes that have not yet been uncovered.

“Our biggest surprise was the discovery of an opening below the vaulted rooms, that led into a deep rock-hewn cistern. It seems that the stone-built underground vaults were built as storerooms to store foodstuffs at fairly cool temperatures, and the supporting vaulted structures enabled the residents to move around underground safely and comfortably, to protect themselves from the scorching summer heat, and to drink cool water from the adjacent cistern. The clay oil lamp sherds retrieved on the vault floors were used for lighting the dark rooms, providing evidence for the residents’ activity here.

The underground vaults. Photograph: Oren Shmueli, Israel Antiquities Authority

“The luxurious estate and the unique impressive underground vaults are evidence of the owners’ means. Their high status and wealth allowed them to build a luxurious mansion that served as a residence and for entertaining; we can study the construction methods and architectural styles, as well as learn about daily life in the Negev at the beginning of Islamic rule.”

Fragments of luxurious decorated delicate glass vessels are evidence for the wealth of the estate owners. Photograph: Yoli Schwartz, Israel Antiquities Authority

The public is invited to take part in guided tours and archaeological excavations on Thursday 25th August. Please visit the Israel Antiquities Authority Facebook Page for more details.

Top Image: The water cistern. Photograph: Emil Aladjem, Israel Antiquities Authority

Medievalists.net August 24, 2022 at 10:08PM

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