JERUSALEM, Israel – In a preconstruction dig for a museum featuring ancient mosaics, Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) archaeologists discovered a "new" 1,700-year-old mosaic.
As the team excavated the area that will house the museum's visitor's center, they uncovered the latest mosaic from the villa believed to have belonged to a wealthy merchant during the Roman occupation.
The museum is being constructed in Lod, a city near Ben Gurion Airport less than 10 miles from Tel Aviv.
In 1996, archaeologists discovered what came to be known as the Lod mosaic, which wasn't fully excavated until 2009. Those mosaics toured museums from New York to Paris and many points in between, allowing hundreds of thousands of visitors to see the ancient art. The worldwide tour generated extensive media and scientific coverage, according to the IAA.
In 2015, archaeologists uncovered another mosaic, which will also be on display in the new museum.
IAA archaeologist Dr. Amir Gorzalczany, director of this phase of the excavation, said the latest find provides more evidence of the luxurious lifestyle prevalent during the Roman period.
"The excavations at the site exposed a villa that included a large, luxurious mosaic-paved reception room triclinium and an internal columned courtyard, also with mosaics, and a water system," he said. "We found evidence for Mediterranean luxury that characterized the Roman Empire, including attributes such as fresco wall paintings."
Gorzalczany says the find poses new questions that future excavations may resolve, noting it "contributed significantly" to the team's understanding of the villa.
"How large was the building? Did the villa comprise several reception halls? Where were the private living rooms? Was there a second story? These issues may be resolved in future excavations," he said.
After carefully removing the mosaic using state-of-the-art techniques, construction on the Shelby White and Leon Levy Lod Mosaic Center is continuing. The museum is slated to open in 2019.
"The Lod Museum will be a dream come true that began when my husband, Leon Levy, and I first saw the magnificent mosaic more than 20 years ago. The initiative could not have materialized without the strong support of the Lod community and the Israel Antiquities Authority," she said.
Lod Mayor Adv. Yair Revivo said, "It is fascinating to learn how many centuries ago the centrality and the potential of the Lod environs was appreciated by the ancient residents. The establishment of the center exhibiting aspects of the rich history of Lod will provide an impressive gateway to the city."
IAA Director Israel Hasson also praised the "cooperation of the Lod Municipality."
"After 20 years of the IAA's perseverance, we have succeeded in reaching a worthy and committed cooperation with the Lod Municipality. I am happy that the citizens of Israel and worldwide will be able to appreciate the cultural heritage that has waited patiently for world recognition and will now receive the honor it deserves," he said.
The late IAA archaeologist, Dr. Miriam Avissar, who first excavated the villa, also uncovered large mosaics depicting animals, fish, flowers and boats woven into the geometric designs.
Before construction can begin anywhere in Israel – on a building, a highway or anything comparable – the IAA assigns a team of archaeologists to explore the building site.
Photos, Israel Antiquities Authority, Niki Davidov, Assaf Peretz