Ancient Christian lantern and wine press found in Israel

(Photo: Clara Amit, courtesy of Israel Antiquities Authority)Ancient wine press.

It was an intoxicating experience for archeologists in Israel announced when they uncovered a 1,500-year-old Christian lantern.

The ancient artifact is adorned with crosses and adjoined to a wine press that is believed to be from the Byzantine period.

Discovered near the city of Ashkelon, the rare item is from the ruins of a Byzantine settlement in the area, said the independent government group The Israel Antiquities Authority said on April 5.

The Christian lantern holds a special significance because of the light it casts.

District Archaeologist Sa'ar Ganor told The Associated Press that when the carving is lit, glowing crosses are projected on the walls of a room.

The wine press is also of note due to its abnormally large size.

Such a big press likely means the wine was exported to other countries in the Mediterranean, as well as Europe and North Africa.

"The wine press exceeded 100 square meters (1,076 square feet) in area," excavation director Rina Avner said in a released statement.

"These compartments were used for fermenting grapes upon their arrival from the vineyards, allowing to produce high quality of wine."

The wine press also features a screw on its treading floor, which enabled grape waste from the compartments to be used for the production of vinegar or "paupers' wine."

Avner said the owner of the press was likely Christian because it was unearthed near the ceramic lantern decorated by five crucifixes. The excavation director further described the lantern to be a miniature modeled after a church building. One side opens like a door to allow its owner to place oil in the lamp.

"The other sides of the lantern were decorated by geometric impressions creating a design of palm branches," Avner said. "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."

Ganor noted in an interview that the wine press was found in the nearby proximity of previously unearthed wine presses in Hamei Yoav and other locations.

Said Ganor, "[They] are located along the ancient road that led from Beth Guvrin to ancient Ashkelon and its port, thus facilitating the transportation of wine to Ashkelon, and its exportation from the port of Ashkelon to Europe and North Africa."

The archeological site is located in the South District of Israel on the Mediterranean coast, 31 miles (50 kilometers) south of Tel Aviv and eight miles from the Gaza Strip.

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