Israeli archaeologists have unveiled a rural mosque and an ancient grand estate in Israel that reveals a great deal about the beginnings of Islam in the southern Levant.
Believed to be over 1,200 years old, the rural mosque is among the earliest in the world to be excavated, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) said on Wednesday. The IAA said that the mosque was uncovered during preliminary work to construct a new community in the Bedouin city of Rahat.
Directed by Dr. Noe David Michael, Oren Shmueli, and Dr. Elena Kogan-Zehavi, the IAA excavations revealed buildings with Christian and Early Islamic characteristics.
The archaeologists say that the site provides unique details of the transition from Christianity to Islam that occurred in the area during the seventh to ninth centuries C.E., or the Early Islamic period. The Muslim conquest of the region occurred in the first half of the seventh century.
Mosques, an estate, and other homes were found nearby, illuminating “the historical process that took place in the northern Negev with the introduction of a new religion – the religion of Islam, and a new rulership and culture in the region,” the IAA said.
The authority said that the mosque included a wall facing the direction of Mecca, with a half-circle niche in it pointing to the south. It also contained a square room.
A Byzantine-period farmhouse was also uncovered in the excavation. The archaeologists believe it was home to Christian farmers and contained a fortified tower and rooms with solid walls encircling a courtyard.
“These were gradually established, inheriting the earlier Byzantine government and Christian religion that held sway over the land for hundreds of years,” the IAA said.
IAA director Eli Eskozido said the archaeological site would be integrated into the city’s development, and the ancient mosques would be preserved in their current locations as historical monuments or as active places of worship.