Israeli archaeologists discover 1,200-year-old mosque near Bedouin city

An early Islamic period mosque was discovered by Bedouin residents and students on vacation in an excavation supervised by the Israel Antiquities Authority.

By World Israel News Staff

Last week, the Israel Antiquities Authority posted a YouTube video showing a 1,200-year-old mosque that was discovered near the Bedouin city of Rahat, in Israel’s southern Negev region.

The mosque, an extremely rare find, was discovered in an area first conquered by Arabs in 636 AD.

It was a rectangular shape, open-topped building, with a round prayer niche, aligned in the direction of Mecca.

“A small, urban mosque, dating from the 7th or 8th century, would be a rare discovery anywhere in the world, but especially in the area north of Be’er Sheva,” said excavation directors Dr. Jon Seligman and Shahar Zur, referencing the largest city in the Negev Desert. “Large mosques are known in Jerusalem and Mecca, but here there is evidence of an ancient house of prayer that was apparently used by local farmers.”

According to reports, a farmhouse from the end of the Byzantine period (about 330 to 670 C.E.) as well as a small settlement from the beginning of the Islamic period (about 670-700 C.E.) were also discovered. The archaeologists uncovered living spaces, open courtyards, storage space and places for food preparation, including “tabuns,” which are open-air fireplaces used for baking.

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“These sites were part of the agricultural system that existed in the northern Negev in the early periods,” explained the directors. “The land was suitable for growing crops, and the groundwater in the streams attracted settlers who wanted to work in agriculture.”

Professor Gideon Avni, head of the Archaeological Division in the Israel Antiquities Authority, said of the find, “The discovery of a mosque near an agricultural settlement between Be’er Sheva and Ashkelon also points to the process of cultural and religious changes and the discovery of the settlement and the mosque alongside it contribute significantly to the study of the history of the country during this turbulent period.”

The excavation is being conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority together with Bedouin residents and youths participating in the dig during their summer vacation.

The project was launched in preparation for the construction of a new neighborhood in the city, funded by the Negev Development and Settlement Authority.

The Israel Antiquities Authority and the Bedouin Development and Settlement Authority are examining how to integrate these unique finds into the new neighborhood.