A Byzantine-era convent in Central Israel was “re-discovered” by Israel’s Defense Forces recently after it was accidentally damaged by the army. The 1,500-year-old convent was first unearthed in the early 2000s by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), but it was re-buried to preserve it due to its location in a military zone.
IDF soldiers (part of the Nature Defense Forces Project) and archaeologists spent most of last month officially uncovering the site for the second time.
“The soldiers and the officers enjoyed the hands-on archaeological work, and we hope that the joint activities protecting the archaeological sites will continue in the future,” said the director of the IDF Nature Defense Forces Project, Guy Saly. “The excavation is an example of officers taking responsibility for the environment and carrying out the meaningful activity, exposing and conserving the ancient site—archaeologists together with officers and soldiers who are the citizens of tomorrow — thus enabling us to experience and connect with our country’s heritage.”
The ancient convent was first discovered by Dr. Uzi Dahari and Dr. Yehiel Zelinger of the IAA about 20 years ago.
“In the original excavation, two buildings were uncovered, one of which was a church paved with a colorful mosaic depicting faunal and vegetal scenes, an entrance hall, the nuns’ dormitories, hermit cells, a tower with rooms, and a crypt, an underground burial complex,” said IAA site excavation director Issy Kornfeld. “The other building included a kitchen, a refectory (dining hall) and an inn for pilgrims.”
After the IDF unintentionally disturbed the site, Kornfeld said, “The Israel Antiquities Authority, together with the Nature Defense Forces program, initiated an educational project, whereby this impressive site was re-opened and cleaned up under the guidance of the Israel Antiquities Authority Community Educational Centre.”
Kornfeld said the site for the convent may have originally been chosen for its special connection to a heroine in the Scriptures. “As often in the ancient world, the convent was erected here, commemorating an ancient tradition, possibly of the burial place of Hannah, mother of the prophet Samuel.”