The late-Roman-era mosaic floor, one of the largest and finest in Israel, was unveiled by the authorities last week for just the second time since it was discovered 13 years ago in the dilapidated eastern section of this poor town near the international airport, south of Tel Aviv.
Some 1,700 years old, the magnificent tiled floor spreads over almost 2,000 square feet, shaded from the harsh summer sun by a thin awning and surrounded by a canvas fence. A panoply of colorful depictions of birds, fish, exotic animals and merchant ships, the mosaic conjures up an intriguing reminder of Lod’s more glorious past.
The archaeologists of the Israel Antiquities Authority believe the mosaic, which lacks any inscriptions, was commissioned by a wealthy individual who owned a grand villa here. Lod, which is mentioned in the Bible, was an important center in ancient times, and this part of it is known to have been a neighborhood of the rich.
The Lod mosaic was discovered in 1996, when Miriam Avissar, an archaeologist for the Israel Antiquities Authority, was sent to carry out a routine salvage excavation because the local council wanted to widen a road. This area of old Lod was already known to be rich in mosaics, but most were badly damaged or under buildings.
“I saw a white frame, then a tiger,” said Ms. Avissar, who has recently retired, recalling her first glimpses of the mosaic. “It was completely flat and in marvelous condition.”
Once exposed, the mosaic was put on public display for a single weekend, during which some 30,000 Israelis flocked to see it. It was then covered up again while the antiquities authority sought financing to carry out the necessary conservation work and to build appropriate facilities at the site.
Donations have now been found and the project is being revived. The mosaic was briefly revealed last Wednesday to news organizations, and is to open to the public for three days, starting Thursday. It will then be removed to a laboratory in Jerusalem for painstaking conservation. In 2010, a section will be sent to the United States for exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Two years from now, the entire mosaic is supposed to be returned to this patch of ground in eastern Lod and put on permanent display in a protected environment.
I know this came across the Agade listserve recently. I just hope it comes to the Met during the spring of 2010, so that it is in NY while I am still at Columbia.