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Archaeology

Beach-combing police find 1,500-year-old marble pillar near Ashdod

Believed to once have been part of a Byzantine era church, massive artifact likely exposed during recent winter storms

Amanda Borschel-Dan is The Times of Israel's Jewish World and Archaeology editor.

  • Ashdod municipal police officers Sagiv Ben Gigi and Eitai Dabosh (Shira Lifshitz/Israel Antiquities Authority)
    Ashdod municipal police officers Sagiv Ben Gigi and Eitai Dabosh (Shira Lifshitz/Israel Antiquities Authority)
  • 1,500-year-old marble pillar discovered on the beach near the Ashdod-Yam archaeological site. (Israel Antiquities Authority)
    1,500-year-old marble pillar discovered on the beach near the Ashdod-Yam archaeological site. (Israel Antiquities Authority)
  • Removal of a 1,500-year-old marble pillar discovered on the beach near the Ashdod-Yam archaeological site. (Israel Antiquities Authority)
    Removal of a 1,500-year-old marble pillar discovered on the beach near the Ashdod-Yam archaeological site. (Israel Antiquities Authority)

When two Ashdod municipal police officers went out on a routine beach patrol last week, they hardly expected to unravel a 1,500-year-old mystery.

But spying a shiny item sticking out of the sand, they stopped to investigate and found what is likely a pillar from the remains of a Byzantine-era church, according to Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) archaeologists.

Officers Eitai Dabosh and Sagiv Ben Gigi were instructed to report the find to the IAA, which has cooperated in excavations surrounding the site for the past decade. Close to the pillar is an archaeological park, Ashdod-Yam, where visitors can find remains dating back to the Late Bronze Age onwards. The IAA believes it was exposed due to recent winter storms.

Called Azotos Paralios (Ashdod by the Sea) in Byzantine times, the site was an important stronghold of Christianity, as is evident from its inclusion in the 6th century Madaba mosaic map.

Starting in 2017, Tel Aviv University Prof. Alexander Fantalkin, director of the ​Ashdod-Yam Archaeological Project, recovered in the northern portion of the site a variety of impressive Byzantine-era remains of a three-nave basilica and chapels from a church compound, mosaics and grave inscriptions, including of apparently female religious leaders.

“It is not inconceivable that the column that was exposed belonged to an ancient church depicted on a map of Madaba,” said Avi Levy, an IAA archaeologist in the Ashkelon sub-district, in a press release.

Removal of a 1,500-year-old marble pillar discovered on the beach near the Ashdod-Yam archaeological site. (Israel Antiquities Authority)

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