1,500-Year-Old Christian Lantern, Wine Press Discovered in Israel

Archaeologists in Israel have announced the discovery of a 1,500-year-old lantern adorned with crosses and a wine press. The rare items offer more insight into life during the Byzantine period.

The Israel Antiquities Authority, an independent governmental authority, said this week that archaeologists have unearthed rare items found in the ruins of a Byzantine settlement near the city of Ashkelon, a coastal city in the South District of Israel on the Mediterranean coast, about 31 miles south of Tel Aviv, and 8 miles north of the border with the Gaza Strip.

The Christian lantern is significant because of the rarity of such items, The Associated Press quoted Archaeologist Saar Ganor as saying. It was carved in a way that when lit, glowing crosses were projected on walls of a room.

Ganor added that the wine press is of note because of its large size. The wine made in such a press was often exported to countries in the Mediterranean as well as Europe and North Africa.

"The wine press exceeded 100 square meters in area. It consisted of a large treading floor surrounded by six compartments that situated north and east of the trading floor," Dr. Rina Avner, the excavation director, said in a statement. "These compartments were used for fermenting grapes upon their arrival from the vineyards, allowing to produce high quality of wine."

At the center of the treading floor, the archaeologists found the cavity of a screw that enabled to press the grape waste from the compartments and to produce vinegar and low quality wine, mentioned in rabbinic sources as "paupers' wine."

"The owner of the wine press was probably a Christian, because near it we found a ceramic lantern decorated by five crosses," Avner said. "The lantern was designed as a miniature church building, with an oval opening on one side that enabled to insert an oil lamp. The other sides of the lantern were decorated by geometric impressions creating a design of palm branches. The crosses were carved in the walls of the lantern, so when the lantern was lit in a small room glowing crosses were projected on the walls and the ceiling."

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