Reeder’s Archaeological Team Finds Ancient Mosaic Floor in Nazareth

A mosaic floor that appears to be from one of the earliest churches in the history of Christianity was uncovered recently in Nazareth, Israel, at the Church of the Annunciation (Greek Orthodox). Dr. Philip Reeder, dean of the Bayer School of Natural and Environmental Sciences, is a co-investigator on the project and is the chief cartographer for the research team that made the discovery.


The church is seen by Christians worldwide as a shrine of great significance going back to the origins of what became Christianity. According to an ancient tradition, the Angel Gabriel “announced” the forthcoming birth of Jesus at a spring or well that Mary was visiting to get water. It became the place where the Greek Orthodox located their first Church of the Annunciation in the Byzantine period. Over the centuries, the church was destroyed multiple times and rebuilt in the pre-modern period. The mosaic floor is thought to have been created in the 4th century, when Queen Helena, mother of Constantine the Great, came to the Holy Land to establish Christian pilgrim sites for the new religion of Rome.

“Based on the data we collected in December 2012 and January 2015 using the geophysical techniques ground-penetrating radar and electro-resistivity tomography, we determined that ‘something’ was buried beneath the courtyard behind the current incarnation of the church,” said Reeder, who created maps that depicted the location of the structural anomalies the team found approximately six feet below the surface.

Based on that information, an excavation was licensed by the Israel Antiquities Authority, and approved by the Greek Orthodox Bishop of Nazareth and the Arab Orthodox Council.

Excavation at the site on June 10 confirmed that the feature found in the geophysical data was the mosaic floor, decorated with stylized crosses and iconography. The excavation was led by University of Hartford Professors Richard Freund and Maha Darawsha, and Haifa University Professor Shalom Yanklovitz. Dr. Harry Jol from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, Paul Bauman, a geophysicist from the energy and resources company Worley Parsons, and Reeder comprise the remainder of the research team.

Darawsha, who was born near Nazareth and is credited with finding the mosaic floor during excavation, delivered news of the find at a press conference on June 15 organized at the site by the Greek Orthodox Bishop of Nazareth.

For their next project, some members of the research team will visit Vilnius, Lithuania, from June 20-July 1. Reeder again will be in charge of collecting spatial data and mapping in the search for the remains of The Great Synagogue of Vilnius, one of the oldest synagogues in Eastern Europe. He is capturing the trip in his blog.