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History & Archeology

IDF soldiers ‘re-uncover’ 1500-year-old convent with a mosaic floor and inscriptions

Israel antiquities authority

The soldiers and the staff of the Israel Antiquities Authority carrying out the excavation and the conservation Photograph: Gilad Stern IAI

Over the past month, dozens of IDF soldiers re-uncovered a 1500-year-old nuns’ convent complex at Horbat Hani, in the low foothills east of Shoham, after a small area of the site located within a military zone was accidentally damaged by the army. The activity took place in the framework of an army educational project initiated together with the Israel Antiquities Authority: “The Nature Defense Forces Project: Officers Take Responsibility for the Environment.”

The Byzantine convent was first excavated twenty years ago by Dr. Uzi Dahari and Dr. Yehiel Zelinger of the Israel Antiquities Authority, and it was subsequently covered up to protect it. It is now visible again, thanks to the project carried out with the soldiers.

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. The other building included a kitchen, a refectory (dining hall) and an inn for pilgrims.

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There was evidence that the convent preserved a tradition related to women. Dr. Eitan Klein, archaeologist at the Israel Antiquities Authority, proposed that the convent at Horbat Hani, may have commemorated the burial place of the biblical Hannah, the wife of Elkanah, who was childless, and gave birth to a son, the prophet Samuel, after she vowed to dedicate him to the service of God.

Issy Kornfeld, Director of the excavation, explained, “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.”

The original excavation also uncovered a few female skeletons, possibly of women who sought to be buried in proximity to the sanctified figure of Hannah.

Guy Saly, director of the IDF Nature Defense Forces Project said, ”The excavation is an example of officers taking responsibility for the environment and carrying out 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 soldiers were said to have enjoyed the hands-on archaeological work.

According to Eli Eskosido, Director of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “The joint IAA initiative with the IDF Nature Defense Forces Project, creates an opportunity for every soldier and army officer. The adoption of archaeological sites in army bases and military zones, and the creation of archaeological exhibitions in army bases, further consolidate the strong connection between the defense of the State of Israel, and the protection of the ancient sites and our cultural inheritance.”



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