Archaeologists discover major early Christian church in Israeli town of Beit Shemesh

Archaeologists claim they have discovered an early Christian church at a site in the town of Beit Shemesh in Israel based on ancient mosaic floors and architecture found by teenage volunteers last month.

(WIKIMEDIA COMMONS / Kippi70)A view of Bet Shemesh from Bet Gemal (south). October 2008.

The early Christian church is estimated to have been built in the 4th century C.E. and appears to have survived until the 7th century. In August, the archaeologists found ancient stone walls, and hundreds of volunteer diggers then discovered mosaic walls in November, Haaretz detailed.

"Only when we reached the floor and the associated finds could we call it a church," the Israel Antiquities Authority's director of the site excavation, Benyamin Storchan, told Haaretz.

In addition, Storchan said the discovery of the church was a surprise despite Beit Shemesh's reputation of being home to mostly Christians during the Constantine era. Aside from the church, diggers also uncovered incense burners, crosses that were fashioned like  jewelry and other similar items.

One of the signs that they had discovered a church was the amount of marble they found in the area. Storchan noted that the marble was imported from Turkey and the size of the structure (40 by 70 meters) indicated that it was more than just a communal level church.

Last month, the Antiquities Authority announced the discovery of the well-preserved 1,500-year-old mosaic floor remains. The item, which was part of either a Georgian church or a monastery, was uncovered in August in the coastal city of Ashdod, The Jerusalem Post reported.

The mosaic in Ashdod bore a Greek inscription dedicated to the church's builder, Bishop Procopius. It also indicated that it was constructed "in the month Dios of the 3rd indiction, year 292."

Dr. Leah Di Segni of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem translated the Greek inscription and said the date of construction matched up to the year 539 C.E. The mosaic was also notably the earliest indication that the Georgian calendar was used in Israel.