Rare Mosaic Showing Ancient Egyptian Map Found in Israel

Mosaic dating about 1,500 years had been uncovered on the floor of an early Christian church in Kiryat Gat.

Nikki Davidov, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority

A mosaic about 1,500-years-old that unusually shows a map, rather than just images of people, gods or animals, was found in the southern Israeli town of Kiryat Gat, the Israel Antiquities Authority said Tuesday.

The map, featuring streets and buildings arranged along a main colonnaded street, is of the ancient Egypt town of Chortaso, according to an inscription in Greek still visible alongside one of the buildings shown in the mosaic, say the archaeologists involved in the excavation, Sa'ar Ganor and Dr. Rina Avner of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

The mosaic had been part of the floor of a church dating to the Byzantine period, which has not survived, the IAA says. Nor is all of the mosaic still in place.

Some of the part that still exists is usual for mosaic pictures of the era, showing animals, including a rooster, deer and birds, and a special goblet with red fruits. The other part of the mosaic shows a Nile River landscape, featuring streets and buildings and a boat with a rolled-up sail.

The buildings are portrayed in great detail and in three dimensions, with two or three stories, balconies and galleries, roofs, roof tiles and windows.

No less than 17 different colors of mosaic tiles, known as tesserae, appear in the mosaic. "The investment in the raw materials and their quality are the best ever discovered in Israel," Ganor commented.

In Madaba, Jordan, another Byzantine church from the same era, the 6th century CE, featured an ornate mosaic with a map of Jerusalem.

According to Christian tradition, the prophet Habakkuk – about whom very little is known, not even his birth place - was buried in Chortaso, which is also known by the name Qartassa. The appearance of this Chortaso on the floor of a public building in Kiryat Gat may be indicative of the origin of the church’s congregation, Ganor and Avner postulate.

The mosaic had actually been uncovered about two years ago, the IAA said, adding that schoolchildren and employees of the Kiryat Gat Industrial Park had been involved in the dig, which was underwritten by the Y.S. Gat Company–Kiryat Gat Industrial Park Management Company.

Nikki Davidov, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority
Nikki Davidov, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority