Israel’s church-shaped lantern: shedding light on the past

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The lantern, together with an oil lamp and two clay vessels recovered from the site. Image: IAAArchaeological work ahead of the construction of an events garden at Hamei Yoav, Israel, has uncovered an unusual church-shaped lantern, as well as a 1,500-year-old wine press.

The rare artefact, comprising a ceramic model of a church decorated with cross-shaped ‘windows’ and a sloping roof, was found by the Israel Antiquities Authority during the investigation of a settlement from the early Byzantine period (c.AD 500). On the fourth side of the lantern is a large opening to accommodate an oil lamp.

‘Objects of this kind are known from archaeological research to be lanterns,’ said excavation director Dr Rina Avner. ‘They were practical ritual objects that were hung or placed inside buildings. An oil lamp placed through the decorated opening illuminated the inside of the model, and as the crosses also served as narrow openings, the light was disseminated through them and shadows of crosses were projected onto the walls of the building where the object was placed.’

Overlooking the wine press, with the bed of a pressing screw in the foreground. Image: IAAThe lantern was found close to a large wine press. Covering an area of around 100 square metres, it had a large treading floor covered with tiles, in the centre of which was the bed of a screw used to press the grapes. The IAA also found three collecting vats into which the wine would run, and compartments for fermenting grapes newly-arrived from vineyards.

‘Three similar wine presses have been found in the region, close to the main road leading from Ashlekon to Bet Guvrin,’ said Saar Ganor, the IAA district archaeologist for Ashlekon. ‘Ashlekon was a commercial city at this time, through which wine from Israel was marketed to the whole Mediterranean.’

The wine press will be conserved and remain in situ as a focal point to the new events garden.

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