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

An aerial view shows workers at the 1,200-year-old rural estate discovered during excavations in the southern Israeli town of Rahat in the Negev desert on August 18, 2022. (Photo by Israel Antiquities Authority/Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

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.

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.

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Archaeologist Elena Kogan Zahavi of Israel's Antiquities Authority displays an artifact recovered from a mansion dating back to the early Islamic period between the eighth and ninth centuries, in the Bedouin town of Rahat in Israel's southern Negev desert on August 23, 2022. (Photo by MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP via Getty Images)

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 the excavation directors in a statement. "Their high status and wealth allowed them to build a luxurious mansion that served as a residence and for entertaining."