Israeli archaeologists have discovered an ancient mosque in the Negev desert near the city of Rahat, located in central Israel, between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

The remains of the mosque have been discovered by archaeologists from the Israel Antiques Authority (IAA), who claim that the mosque is more than 1,200 years old. The discovery was made during excavation work being carried out in the Bedouin city of Rahat to build a new neighbourhood, per the officials.

The mosque has a square room and a wall facing the direction of Mecca, the holy city of Islam, said the IAA. "These unique architectural features show that the building was used as a mosque," it said, adding that it may have hosted a few dozen worshippers at a time.

A "luxurious estate building" has also been found near the mosque with the remains of tableware and glass artefacts. The experts believe that a wealthy family may have lived on the estate at one point in time.

The researchers found a house nearby and believe that it could be from the Byzantine period and likely housed Christian farmers, according to a report in The Times of Israel.

"What is unique in our mosque is the proliferation of 7th-century ceramics on the site, making it one of the earliest mosques in the world," said archaeologist Dr. Elena Kogan-Zehav.

This is not the first time an ancient mosque has been discovered in the region. The IAA had unearthed another mosque from the same era of the seventh to eighth century AD in 2019 near Rahat. They claim that these mosques are "among the earliest known worldwide."

The mosques, estates, and other homes found nearby highlighted "the historical process that took place in the northern Negev with the introduction of a new religion – the religion of Islam, and a new rulership and culture in the region," added the IAA.

"These were gradually established, inheriting the earlier Byzantine government and the Christian religion that held sway over the land for hundreds of years." The Israeli authorities have decided that the mosque would be preserved at its current location.

Israel mosque
The 7th century mosque discovered near today's Rahat. (Emil Aladjem, Israel Antiquities Authority)