The mosaic floor of an ancient church was first discovered in the 1980s but was since been covered over and not accessible. Now the Israel Antiquities Authority, together with the Shoham Local Council and with the help of volunteers, have prepared the site for visitors along the Israel National Trail. Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologist Yair Amitzur: “It’s quite feasible that the mosaic artisan sat here and was inspired by the anemones flowering all around him.”
The fine colorful mosaic adorned with the flower designs that are being uncovered is located in the Shoham Industrial Zone. The Israel Antiquities Authority, together with the Shoham Local Council and with the help of volunteers, is restoring part of the archaeological site of Horvat El-Bira, which was covered over for the last 40 years, and creating a site for visitors along the Israel National Trail.
A Roman-period rural villa was located at the site, and agricultural processing installations and several buildings that served the ancient residents are extant today. In the Byzantine period, a church was built, located alongside the ancient road that connected the coastal area with the Judean Shephelah lowlands, now crossed by the modern Highway No. 6. Along the ancient road, there were ancient “refreshing stations” every few kilometers: Tel Tinshemet, Horvat El-Bira, and Horvat Hani, this last site also recently conserved by the Israel Antiquities Authority. These sites offered the ancient travelers a place to rest, pray, and recover their energy.
“When we first came to the site, the mosaic was covered with earth and weeds. Over the last month, we have been uncovering and cleaning up the site with the local community,” says Yair Amitzur, Director of the Israel Antiquities Authority Central Region Education Department. “We are working here amongst a carpet of flowering anemones. One can imagine that the surroundings inspired the artist of the flower-adorned mosaic.”
“The site was first excavated in the 1980s by Professors Zeev Safrai and Shimon Dar,” says Anan Azab, Israel Antiquities Authority Director of the Central District. “It seems that the site was settled from the Iron Age or earlier, possibly as early as the Chalcolithic period, and down to the Islamic period.”
The restoration and cleaning up of the site is being carried out by the Shoham community and by Israel Antiquities Authority volunteers from around the country in the context of ‘Good Deeds Day.’ The Israel Antiquities Authority and the Shoham Local Council have also erected a new seating area for the pleasure of the hikers and the residents.
In the framework of the project, the Israel Antiquities Authority team has connected the site with the adjacent new offices of the Israel Antiquities Authority Central Region in Shoham by becoming ‘Israel Trail Angels.’ Amitzur adds, “Thanks to the project, Israel Trail hikers will be able to stop here, replenish their water supplies, drink a cup of coffee, and “en route” (literally), receive an explanation on the site.”
According to Eli Escusido, Director of the Israel Antiquities Authority: “It is very moving to meet good people who voluntarily enlist to enhance the local heritage and to create a good seating area along the Israel trail. This type of activity reflects the Israel experience at its best. I hope every hiker along the Israel National Trail will appreciate the humane values of our heritage and will perhaps be motivated to participate in one of the Israel Antiquities Authority initiatives and activities close to their home. The archaeological heritage can be found throughout the country; one only has to raise one’s eyes or perhaps look down on the ground to see it!”
The Shoham Local Council Mayor, Eitan Patigro: “Shoham values its local nature and history, which plays a central role in the residents’ leisure time. The new site is located in the heart of the Shoham High-Park Logistic Center, and I do not doubt that it will be a center of attraction for the residents and visitors. The proximity to the Israel National Trail and the Food-Tracks that will be set up in the adjacent parking area provides an opportunity for a short and interesting walk while learning about the history of settlement in the Land of Israel and specifically in our region. I am grateful to the Israel Antiquities Authority for the initiative to uncover this fascinating site, and I thank the local pupils who participated in the project.”