A floor mosaic dating back to the sixth century, depicting trees and fruit baskets, was uncovered this week at the Yavneh-Yam archaeological site near Kibbutz Palmahim.

The floor, discovered during excavations by Tel Aviv University's Institute of Archaeology, decorated the dining room of a Byzantine villa, containing unbroken pottery.

The Yavneh-Yam site, 15 kilometers south of Jaffa, served as a seaport from the middle of the second millennium B.C.E. until the ancient Islamic period. The numerous artifacts uncovered at the site point to extensive cultural and trade ties with Egypt, Lebanon, Cyprus and the Greek Isles.

At the end of the fifth century, it was home to a monk known as Peter the Iberian - a charismatic bishop of Georgian origin who gathered around him a circle of intellectuals. His biography, "The Life of Peter the Iberian," provides a glimpse into the nature of the community.

The excavation, directed by Prof. Moshe Fischer and Itamar Taxel, was intended, among other things, to examine life in the community vis-a-vis the text. So far it has yielded magnificent finds: In the eastern part of the area examined, the remains of warehouses were uncovered, containing storage jars that were hidden inside the floors and large storage rooms with numerous utensils that were destroyed toward the end of the ancient era.

Fischer warns: "A few years from now, there won't be a trace of the ancient remains at the site."

The Yavneh-Yam archaeological site is located within the confines of a national park, but it is not protected by a security system.

"The Yavneh-Yam Archaeological Project is trying to salvage some of the antiquities, but also to warn of the danger looming over this site," Fischer said.