The remains of a 1,500-year-old Byzantine monastery and church decorated with mosaic floors and imported marble elements are currently being uncovered during large-scale excavations conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority in Beit Shemesh with the help of more than 1,000 teenagers.

“We were surprised by the wonderful state of preservation of the ancient remains, and the richness of the finds being uncovered,” said Benyamin Storchan, director of the excavations for the Israel Antiquities Authority.

“The artifacts found in the large building, which seems to be a monastic compound, may indicate that the site was important and perhaps a center for ancient pilgrims in the Judean Shephelah [lowlands] region. We already know of a number of ancient churches and monasteries in the Judean Shephelah, but this one has outstanding preservation.”

Some of those who took part in excavations of the Byzantine church in Beit Shemesh. Photo by Assaf Peretz/Israel Antiquities Authority

Teams working since last summer have uncovered the remains of walls built of large worked stone masonry, as well as architectural elements including a marble pillar base decorated with crosses and marble window screens. Storchan said the marble artifacts were brought from the region of Turkey and further inland by wagon.

“In one of the rooms we uncovered a beautiful mosaic floor decorated with birds, leaves and pomegranates,” he added.

The archeologists do not know why the site was abandoned in the seventh century CE.

More than 1,000 teenagers from schools and pre-military academies have participated in the excavation.

Hadas Keich, 16, a student at the Sde Boker Field School, explained: “We searched for a way to fundraise for our class trip to Poland, and we decided to take part in the archaeological excavations. Little by little we uncovered exciting finds, which helped to connect us to our country and its history. Amazing what is hidden here beneath our feet.”