|This mosaic found in an ancient Byzantine church contains a Christogram, or a monogram of Christ.
Credit: Yoli Shwartz, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority
Update: The article was updated on Jan. 23 at 9:55 a.m. ET to include comments from an archaeologist at the site.
Archaeologists in Israel have uncovered intricate mosaics on the floor of a 1,500-year-old Byzantine church, including one that bears a Christogram surrounded by birds.
The ruins were discovered during a salvage excavation ahead of a construction project in Aluma, a village about 30 miles (50 kilometers) south of Tel Aviv, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) announced Wednesday (Jan. 22). Excavator Davida Eisenberg Degen said the team used an industrial digger to probe a mound at the site, and through a 10-foot (3 meters) hole, they could see the white tiles of an ancient mosaic.
Much of the church was revealed during excavations over the past month. The basilica was part of a local Byzantine settlement, but the archaeologists suspect it also served as a center of Christian worship for neighboring communities because it was next to the main road running between the ancient seaport city of Ashkelon in the west and Beit Guvrin and Jerusalem in the east. [See Images of a Byzantine Mosaic Discovered in Israel]
“Usually a Byzantine village had a church, but the size of this church and its placement on the road makes it more important,” Degen told LiveScience.
The excavators plan to keep working on the site for another week, but one of the most remarkable finds so far was a mosaic containing a Christogram, or a “type of monogram of the name of Jesus,” Degen said.
At the time, Byzantine Christians wouldn’t have put crosses on their mosaic floors so as to not step on the symbol of Christ, Degen explained. The Christogram in the mosaic may look like a cross, but it’s actually more like a “chi rho” symbol, which puts together the first two captial letters in the Greek word for Christ, and often looks like an X superimposed on a P. There is an alpha and omega (the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet) on either side of the chi rho, which is another Christian symbol, as Christ was often described as the “”the beginning and the end.” Four birds also decorate the mosaic, and two of them are holding up a wreath to the top of the chi rho.
[More @ Livescience]