Middle East

Israel mosque find: Archaeologists unearth 1,200-year-old ruins in desert

An ancient mosque found in the Israeli desert Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The mosque was found in the Israeli Bedouin town of Rahat in the Negev desert

One of the world's earliest known mosques, built around 1,200 years ago, has been discovered by archaeologists in Israel's Negev Desert.

The remains, dating from the 7th or 8th century, were found in the Bedouin town of Rahat.

Israel's Antiquities Authority (IAA) says the mosque was unearthed during building work in the area.

The ruins of a mosque found in Israel Image copyright Israel's Antiquities Authority
Image caption The mosque was found during building work
Muslims pray at the site of an ancient mosque in Israel Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Muslims pray at the newly discovered remains

It is the first known mosque from this period in the area, rivalling the age of those found in Mecca and Jerusalem, the IAA said.

Excavation directors Jon Seligman and Shahar Zur said the mosque would be "a rare discovery anywhere in the world".

Researchers believe the mosque's congregation were likely to have been local farmers.

A worker from Israel's Antiquities Authority at the site of an ancient mosque Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Shahar Tzur of Israel's Antiquities Authority gives details of the find

The building was open-air, rectangular-shaped and had a "Mihrab" - or a prayer niche - facing south toward Mecca, Islam's holiest city.

"These features are evidence for the purpose for which this building was used, many hundred years ago," said Mr Seligman.

A worker from Israel's Antiquities Authority at the site of an ancient mosque Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Yaser Alamor of Israel's Antiquities Authority displays a stone retrieved from the mosque

It is one of the first mosques constructed after the arrival of Islam in what is present-day Israel, when the Arabs conquered the then-Byzantine province in 636, according to Gideon Avni, an expert on early Islamic history.

"The discovery of the village and the mosque in its vicinity are a significant contribution to the study of the history of the country during this turbulent period," he said.

All pictures copyrighted to Getty and Israel's Antiquities Authority

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