Archaeologists unearths remains of 1200 year-old ancient mosque

RAHAT: Israeli archaeologists said Thursday they had unearthed the remains of a rare ancient rural mosque from the seventh and eighth centuries AD in the country’s south.

The ruins of a 1200 year old rural mosque were discovered during preparations to construct a new building in the Bedouin town of Rahat, the Israel Antiquities Authority said.

It said the remains were of an open-air rectangular mosque with a mihrab, or prayer niche, facing Makkah.

The authority called it one of the earliest known rural mosques worldwide.

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“From this period there are large known mosques in Jerusalem and in Makkah, but here we have evidence of an ancient house of prayer, which seems to have served the farmers who lived in the area,” the authority said in a statement from the excavations’ directors, Jon Seligman and Shahar Zur.

It said no similar building had been found in the area where it was discovered.

“This is one of the earliest mosques known of from the time of the first arrival of Islam in Israel, after the Arab conquest in 636 C.E.,” said Professor Gideon Avni, an expert in the period at the Antiquities Authority.

“The discovery of the mosque next to an agricultural town between Beersheba and Ashkelon indicates the processes of cultural and religious change which the country underwent during the transition from the Byzantine period to the early Islamic period.”

The authority was “examining possible ways in which this special finding can be integrated into the new neighbourhood,” it said.

Other finds in the area were a small settlement from the early Islamic period, the authority said. The Muslim conquest of the region occurred in the first half of the seventh century.