Ancient pottery factory dating back 1,800 years unearthed in Israel

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An Israel Antiquities Authority archeologist checks a bathing place at a site from Byzantine time found during a large excavation in the central Israeli town of Gedera near the ancient archeological site of Tel Qatra on July 31 2018. (AFP Photo)
An Israel Antiquities Authority archeologist checks a bathing place at a site from Byzantine time found during a large excavation in the central Israeli town of Gedera near the ancient archeological site of Tel Qatra on July 31 2018. (AFP Photo)

Relics from a large-scale wine jug factory that dates back around 1,800 years have been uncovered in Israel, complete with baths and game boards possibly meant to allow laborers to relax, archaeologists said on Tuesday.

Finds from the site in Gedera include piles of pottery shards, presumably from flawed and discarded jugs, a network of 20 bathing holes and four ancient game boards.

The factory was active for around 600 years, making vessels for storing wine that were popular export items at the time, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) said in statement.

"The ongoing manufacturing may point to this having been a family business, handed down from generation to generation," it said, adding that the recreational facilities "served, perhaps, to relieve workers of the demands of their routine labor".

Excavation director Alla Nagorsky told journalists at the site that from the third century AD the plant produced vessels of a type known to historians as "Gaza" jars for an unbroken period of 600 years.

"This kind of a place is not built in an instant," she said. "An engineer worked on it. The site is very designed."

Alongside the factory, the IAA added, were two Byzantine bathhouses, at least one with a heating boiler and 20 "finely constructed" pools, connected to one another by channels and pipes.

"The archaeologists consider that the water complex served both the local population and the many travelers along the ancient main road connecting the port of Gaza with the center of the country," the statement said.

Gaza City lies about 30 miles (48 kilometers) southwest of Gedera, on the Mediterranean coast. During its long history, Gaza has been ruled by the Romans, Byzantines, Crusaders, Mamluks and Ottomans.

At Gedera, the IAA said, the games room was "a rare and surprising discovery".

In it were boards used for playing backgammon and "mancala", games which are still popular in the area.

The statement said the Gedera pottery works may have built the leisure center for its employees, just as today's hi-tech companies provide recreation facilities for their workers.

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