Archaeologists working in Israel have discovered the remains of a mosque dating to seventh or eighth century, as well as a Byzantine-era farm.
The remains of this rare building were discovered near the town of Rahat in the Negev Desert. Jon Seligman and Shahar Zur, directors of the excavation for the Israel Antiquities Authority, commented: “A small rural mosque, dated to the 7th to 8th centuries C.E., is a rare finding anywhere in the world, especially in the area north of Be’er Sheva, where no similar building has previously been discovered. From this period there are large known mosques in Jerusalem and in Mecca, but here we have evidence of an ancient house of prayer, which seems to have served the farmers who lived in the area. We found remains of an open-air mosque – a rectangular building with a “Mihrab” – a prayer niche – facing south, towards Mecca. These features are evidence for the purpose for which this building was used, many hundred years ago”.
During the excavations, other remains were uncovered as well: a farm from the end of the Byzantine period (6th – 7th century ), and a small settlement from the beginning of the Islamic period (7th – 8th century), which contains remains of buildings that were divided into living rooms, open courtyards, storage space and places which were used for preparing food and include “tabbuns” (open-air fire-places used for baking). According to the directors of the excavations, “these sites were part of the agricultural structure in the Northern Negev in ancient times. The soil was suitable for growing grains, and the ground water in the perennial streams attracted settlers who wanted to cultivate the land”.
According to Prof. Gideon Avni, an Israel Antiquities Authority expert on this period, “this is one of the earliest mosques known from the beginning of the arrival of Islam in Israel, after the Arab conquest of 636 C.E.. The discovery of a mosque near an agricultural settlement between Be’er Sheva and Ashkelon also indicates the processes of cultural and religious change which the country underwent during the transition from the Byzantine to the early Islamic period. The discovery of the village and the mosque in its vicinity are a significant contribution to the study of the history of the country during this turbulent period. According to historical Islamic sources, the new Islamic regime distributed plots of land to its senior officials, including Amr ibn al-‘As, an Arab military commander who conquered Israel and Syria. The continuation of excavations on the site will perhaps provide answers to the questions regarding the foundation of the settlement and the nearby mosque, and its connection to the Arab conquerors of Israel.”
Bedouin residents of the area, as well as youth from the local villages and towns, participated in the excavation. This was part of the Legacy Project led by the Israel Antiquities Authority in recent years, which opens the doors for organized youth groups to help with the excavations during the summer vacation.
Top Image: Photo by Anat Rasiuk/Israel Antiquities Authority