A large and exceptionally well-preserved ancient Roman floor mosaic, discovered in Lod, Israel, in 1996, and excavated in 2009, makes its final United States stop at the Penn Museum
in Philadelphia before traveling to the Louvre in Paris and eventually, to a new museum being built just for it in Israel.
In 1996, workmen widening a road in Lod (formerly Lydda), Israel, made a startling discovery: signs of a Roman mosaic pavement were found about three feet below the modern ground surface. A rescue excavation conducted immediately by the Israel Antiquities Authority revealed a mosaic floor approximately 50 feet long by 27 feet wide. Of exceptional quality and in an excellent state of preservation, the complete mosaic, comprising seven panels, is symmetrically divided into two large "carpets" by a long rectangular horizontal panel. To preserve the mosaic, it was reburied until funding was secured for its full scientific excavation and conservation in 2009.
The mosaic floor is believed to come from the home of a wealthy Roman living in the Eastern Roman Empire at about 300 CE. Because the mosaic's imagery has no overt religious content, it cannot be determined whether the owner was a pagan, a Jew, or a Christian.
The exhibition features the three most complete and impressive panels found in what was probably a large reception room. Within the central panelwhich measures 13 feet squareis a series of smaller squares and triangles depicting various birds, fish, and animals that surround a larger octagonal scene with ferocious wild animalsa lion and lioness, an elephant, a giraffe, a rhinoceros, a tiger, and a bull. Such animals were well known to the Romans since they appeared at gladiatorial games, where they were pitted either against each other or against human adversaries. It is indeed possible that the owner of the house was involved in the capture and trade of exotic animals for the games, which was a very lucrative profession during the empire.
The mosaic may therefore represent the largesse that the owner had conferred by staging games with wild animal hunts. Flanking the central panel to the north and south are two smaller, rectangular end panels. The north panel explores the same theme as the main panel with various creatures; the south panel is devoted to a single marine scene, complete with two Roman merchant ships. None of the mosaics contain human figures.
The footprints of several workers involved in laying the floor about 1,700 years agosome wearing sandals and others working barefootwere also found, and preserved to be shown in the exhibition.
Lod is located near Tel Aviv, and the site was initially settled in the 5th millennium BCE. Its name appears in the written record as early as the 15th century BCEin a list of towns in Canaan that was compiled during the reign of the pharaoh Thutmose III (14791425 BCE)and also in the Old and New Testaments. In the 1st century CE, the inhabitants of Lod were sold into slavery and subsequently the town was razed. A Roman colony under the name of Diospolis (City of God) was established there in 200 CE.
Unearthing a Masterpiece relates both the history of the discovery and the story of the mosaic, its painstaking removal and conservation, told in original text, as well as a video created by the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York), who premiered the mosaic in September 2010, before it traveled to the Legion of Honor Museum (San Francisco), The Field Museum (Chicago), and the Columbus Museum of Art (Columbus, Ohio).
The Lod Mosaic is on loan from the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Shelby White and Leon Levy Lod Mosaic Center. Penn Museum is deeply grateful to the Women's Committee for lead sponsorship of Unearthing a Masterpiece: A Roman Mosaic from Lod, Israel, as well as for generous underwriting of the restoration of the Upper Kamin Entrance doors. Additional support is provided by Alexandra and Eric J. Schoenberg, Ph.D., and by the Julian A. and Lois G. Brodsky Foundation. Renovations to the Pepper Gallery, where the Lod Mosaic is on display, were generously underwritten by an anonymous gift in memory of Michel and Nelly Abemayor.