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"Luxurious" 1,200-year-old mansion unearthed in southern Israel

Archeologists' Dead Sea Scroll discovery
Archeologists unearth tiny fragments of 2,000-year-old biblical texts, The Dead Sea Scrolls 03:37

Archaeologists unearthed a lavish 1,200-year-old estate in Israel's desert south that offers a unique glimpse of life for wealthy residents of the Negev region, the country's antiquities authority said Tuesday.

The discovery in the Bedouin town of Rahat dates to the early Islamic period in the 8th or 9th century, the authority said.

Israel Archaeology
Workers are seen on a 1,200-year-old rural estate discovered during excavations by the Israel Antiquities Authority during expansion of the town of Rahat, Israel, Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2022.  Tsafrir Abayov / AP

The luxury home is built around a courtyard and features four wings with several rooms for its residents. One lavish section features a marble hallway with stone floors and elaborate wall decorations. Archaeologists also found shards of decorated glass serving dishes.

Underneath the courtyard, archaeologists were surprised to discover subterranean vaults made of stone, which they believe were used to store items at cooler temperatures away from the scorching desert sun. The vaults appear to be carefully constructed and sturdy enough to allow people to move between them underground. An opening from the vaulted rooms also leads to a cistern where residents could access cool drinking water.

Experts say the mansion's owners likely lived a life of prosperity and had plenty to go around.

"The luxurious estate and the unique impressive underground vaults are evidence of the owners' means," said a statement from the archaeologists leading the excavations.

"Their high status and wealth allowed them to build a luxurious mansion that served as a residence and for entertaining," added Oren Shmueli, Elena Kogan-Zehavi and Noe D. Michael.

We assume whoever lived here was some local ruler," Michael told AFP, adding that such estates had been "totally unknown in the Negev until today".

The site in the Bedouin city of Rahat is due to be opened to the public on Thursday.

The estate is close to a rare mosque dating back to the same period, which Israeli archaeologists unveiled in June.

A few dozen Muslims likely worshipped at the site at one time, the Israel Antiquities Authority said.

The Muslim conquest of the region occurred in the first half of the seventh century.

"After we finish the excavation (of the mansion), it is planned that this place will be preserved", alongside other discoveries like the mosque, Michael added.

Last year, archaeologists announced dozens of new Dead Sea Scroll fragments were found in a desert cave in Israel.

AFP contributed to this report.

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