updated 3/25/2009 4:29:32 PM ET 2009-03-25T20:29:32

The Israel Antiquities Authority says archaeologists have discovered a Byzantine-era bathhouse in the south of the country dating back more than 1,500 years.

Archaeologist Gregory Serai headed the excavation and says the impressive size of bathhouse, 20 by 20 yards (meters), showed the area between Beersheba and Gaza was more heavily populated in the Byzantine era then previously thought.

Serai added in Wednesday's statement that the evidence found at the site shows "the villagers based their economy on wine production."

The statement said the bathhouse was destroyed in a cave-in and the site became a garbage dump.

The dig precedes work to lay a railroad track through the area.

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