Archaeologists working in a synagogue in Huqoq, Lower Galilee in Israel have uncovered more fifth century mosaics. The stunning works feature images of elephants, roosters, theatre masks, women surrounded by cupids, Greek gods and other mythological creatures.
The researchers also found mosaics depicting a historical figure, Alexander the Great. The image is the first non-biblical story to be discovered inside an ancient synagogue.
"Battle elephants were associated with Greek armies beginning with Alexander the Great, so this might be a depiction of a Jewish legend about the meeting between Alexander and the Jewish high priest," said archaeologist Jodi Magness from the University of North Carolina, according to the Daily Mail. "Different versions of this story appear in the writings of Flavius Josephus and in rabbinic literature."
The mosaic of Alexander the Great was found in a larger mosaic with "human figures, animals and mythological creatures arranged symmetrically around it," the archaeologist said.
"The images in these mosaics - as well as their high level of artistic quality - and the columns painted with vegetal motifs have never been found in any other synagogue," Magness said in a press statement. "They are unique discoveries."
Magness and her team first came across the site in 2012 and have been unearthing more of the pieces this summer. Many of the mosaics are found paved on the well-preserved synagogue's floor, but the building itself is already ruined.
One of their first discoveries back then was an image of Samson setting foxes on fire as he sought revenge against the Philistines. This was described in the Book of Judges in the Bible. Over the next summer, the archaeologists dug up another image of Samson with the Gate of Gaza on his shoulders.
"It is not clear if there is a thematic connection between the Samson scenes and the other mosaics in the east aisle," said Magness. Her team is currently studying why the non-secular mosaics are inside the synagogue.
More digs on the site are set in the summer of 2016.