The remains of a lavish Byzantine mansion with pictorial mosaic flooring and a rare table with gold-encrusted glass platelets have been uncovered in the coastal city of Caesarea during an archaeological excavation, Israel's Antiquities Authority announced Monday.
The 16 X 14.5 meter rectangular colorful mosaic -- part of the main central courtyard of the palace -- located just off the shorelines of the Mediterranean Sea, had been buried under sand dunes for the past 50 years, since 1950, when an Israeli army unit undergoing
training in the area accidentally stumbled on a section of the impressive mosaic flooring when digging trenches, excavation director Dr. Yosef Porat said.
After being covered over for the next half a century, the Antiquities Authority carried out an excavation at the site last year, in cooperation with the Caesarea Development Corporation, which invested NIS 600,000 in the development of the project.
The epicenter of the site, which was inaugurated on Monday, is the impressive open-air mosaic paved courtyard, which, in an unusual move, visitors are allowed to walk freely on.
According to the director of the excavations, the 6th century mansion likely belonged to one of the richest Christian families in Caesarea, possibly the aristocracy, although no inscriptions have been found
at the site to date.
The palace was destroyed by fire near the end of the Byzantine Period (324-638 CE) when the Arabs conquered the strategic harbor city, and set fire to any building outside the city walls, he said.
The mosaic-lined courtyard is composed of a series of animals, including lions, panthers, wild boars, dogs elephants, antelopes, and bulls, all enclosing 120 medallions, each of which contains a single bird, causing archaeologists to dub it "the bird mosaic."
During the excavations surrounding the central courtyard, archaeologists uncovered a unique table inlaid with a checkerboard pattern of gold-encrusted glass platelets in various shapes. Each square glass platelet in the table, which was found lying
upside-down on the pavement, bears a flower or cross stamped into the platelet after its production was completed, an unusual process that required reheating the glass.
With its unique decorative glass design, the table -- deemed "priceless" by Antiquities Authority conservation specialist Jacques Neguer -- is thought to be the only one its kind found in the excavation of a late Byzantine structure.
The 1,500-year-old table will be transferred to the Antiquities Authority Jerusalem laboratories for conservation.
The site is open to visitors free of charge.
... some photos accompany the original article.