(CNN) - Archaeologists working in Israel's Negev desert have discovered an ancient rural mosque, thought to be one of the earliest in the world.
The mosque, which dates back to the 7th or 8th century, was discovered by researchers from the Israel Antiquities Authority as they prepared to build a new neighborhood in the southern Israeli Bedouin city of Rahat.
The archaeologists said in a statement that large mosques from the period have been found in Mecca and Jerusalem but that it was rare to find such a building in the area, which is north of the city of Beer Sheva.
Researchers excavated the remains of a rectangular open-air mosque with a prayer niche facing south toward Mecca The mosque, they said, would be "a rare discovery anywhere in the world" and was likely to have been used by local farmers.
"This is one of the earliest mosques known from the beginning of the arrival of Islam in Israel, after the Arab conquest of 636 C.E.," said Gideon Avni, an archaeologist with the Israel Antiquities Authority.
Other buildings were also found during the excavation, including a Byzantine farm and a small settlement from the Islamic period. The archaeologists said in a statement that no similar buildings had been previously discovered in the area.
Israeli authorities say they are looking into ways to integrate the structure into the new neighborhood due to be built in the city.
Correction: The mosque is estimated to date back to the 7th or 8th century CE, not BC.
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