Archaeologists have discovered a 1,500-year-old mosaic off the Sea of Galilee that sheds new light on medieval settlements around the large body of fresh water.
During excavations at a site known as Khirbat al-Minya – remnant of a palace at the northern end of the lake in northern Israel dating to the reign of the Umayyad Caliphate – a geomagnetic survey of the area by researchers from Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany, also found an ancient well.
The Umayyad Caliph al-Walid I commissioned the construction of the palace and the adjacent mosque with a 15-meter minaret in the 8th century on land previously believed to be undeveloped and uninhabited.
Researchers have found basalt buildings from different periods, with plaster walls, colorful mosaic floors and a well. The plants depicted in one of the mosaics are particularly striking because they have long, round stems, similar to those depicted in the 5th and 6th century mosaics found on the Nile.
These mosaics of flora and fauna native to the Nile Valley symbolized the life-giving power of the river and its seasonal floods that sustain ancient Egyptian agriculture.
It also explains why later ancient churches, such as the nearby Church of the Multiplication at Ein Sheva, and luxurious residences in cities of Late Antiquity were decorated with similar mosaics.
The mosaic, as well as ceramics found in the area, reveal that settlements along the shores of the Sea of Galilee flourished for centuries before the construction of Khirbat al-Minya.
The first settlers in the area were Christian or Jewish and were later joined by a small Muslim community. The ceramics discovered suggest that the site under Umayyad rule fell victim to the pickaxes of the iconoclasts who looted it and reused the materials in other construction projects.
Researchers also found a nearby stone oven that was used to process sugar cane.
Sugar cane was one of the main agricultural exports of the Holy Land in the early Middle Ages, but its processing required a lot of water and wood, which depleted the natural resources of the region – damage that has not not fully recovered to date.
“Our most recent excavations show that Caliph al-Walid built his palace on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, on land that had been previously settled. Although the region derived great profits from the cultivation of sugar cane, this caused prolonged damage to the ecosystem, unfortunately,” said site manager and archaeologist Professor Hans-Peter Kuhnen.
“Our research has brought this city back to life, near the Caliph’s palace, and placed it in the right context in the history of human settlement in the Holy Land, as it has known over the centuries various periods of flux and reflux.”