A huge farmhouse from the First Temple period, an ornate Byzantine church built over a thousand years later and a lime kiln dated to the Ottoman era have been found by Rosh HaAyin, during archaeological investigation ahead of building a new neighborhood in the central Israeli city.
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The sprawling 2,700-year old farmhouse has no less than 24 rooms surrounding a central courtyard, which is a common structure in the Middle East. Altogether the farmhouse area covers some 30 meters by 50. It was so well preserved that some walls were still standing to a height of more than two meters after nearly three millennia.
Other evidence found on the site attests to the importance of grain in the local diet 2,700 years ago, suggests Amit Shadman, excavation director on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority.
"A large storage compartment (silo) to protect the grain was exposed in the courtyard. It seems that carbohydrates were as popular then as now, and the growing and processing of grain were fairly widespread in the rural-agricultural region," Shadman said.
The dependence on processed grain was corroborated by other discoveries in the farmstead area, including numerous millstones that had been used to grind the grain into flour. (A local weakness for flour may well go back to before the era of cultivation: earlier this year, Israeli archaeologists published a paper postulating that barley had been ground and baked into bread 13,000 years ago, before real farming had even begun.
The archaeologists also found two silver coins from a slightly later time, the 4th century BCE, around 2,400 years ago, bearing the likenesses of the goddess Athena and the Athenian owl. Evidently this farmstead, like similar ones in the area, remained in use for centuries until the region was abandoned in the period of the Hellenistic conquests, Shadman says.
It would only be many centuries later, during the 5th century CE, that Christians would arrive and settle, as attested by heavy construction of churches and monasteries – like this ornate one, and another dating from the same era found near Jerusalem in July.
The monastery erected on a nearby hill dates to some 1,500 years ago. It included a church with elaborate mosaic floors featuring geometric designs, residential quarters, an olive oil press and stables for horses, equipped with mangers and troughs.
Then as today, somebody wanted credit: One of the mosaics states, “This place was built under Theodosius the priest. Peace be with you when you come, peace be with you when you go, Amen."
Peace did not come to pass, though more centuries did. Come the Ottoman invasion, a lime kiln was built on the spot and large parts of the monastery were destroyed.
The excavation is being conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority, helped by teenagers.