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Archaeology

Stunning Roman-era Lod seafaring mosaic finally drops anchor in a home of its own

Five years – and a pandemic – after breaking ground at Lod, the Shelby White & Leon Levy Lod Mosaic Archaeological Center is inaugurated to house the massive sea-themed floor

Amanda Borschel-Dan is The Times of Israel's Jewish World and Archaeology editor.

  • Lod mosaic. (Nicki Davidov, Israel Antiquities Authority)
    Lod mosaic. (Nicki Davidov, Israel Antiquities Authority)
  • Mayor of Lod Yair Revivo, donor Shelby White and director of the Israel Antiquities Authority Eli Eskozido, at the Lod museum opening, June 27, 2022. (Yoli Schwartz, Israel Antiquities Authority)
    Mayor of Lod Yair Revivo, donor Shelby White and director of the Israel Antiquities Authority Eli Eskozido, at the Lod museum opening, June 27, 2022. (Yoli Schwartz, Israel Antiquities Authority)
  • Shelby White & Leon Levy Lod Mosaic Archaeological Center (Peter Pen Stepansky)
    Shelby White & Leon Levy Lod Mosaic Archaeological Center (Peter Pen Stepansky)
  • Lod mosaic. (Nicki Davidov, Israel Antiquities Authority)
    Lod mosaic. (Nicki Davidov, Israel Antiquities Authority)

One of the most beautiful treasures of Roman-era Holy Land — the seafaring-themed Lod mosaic — was restored to its home port on June 27.

Given a hero’s welcome in the form of a dedicated museum, the late 3rd century– early 4th century mosaic is now housed in the newly constructed Shelby White & Leon Levy Lod Mosaic Archaeological Center near Ben Gurion Airport.

The first section of the richly colorful mosaic was discovered accidentally during salvage excavations in 1996 under a central city square in Lod. Another section was uncovered under what appears to be a large Roman villa from the Byzantine era in 2015. Surprisingly, a third section was also discovered under the villa in 2018 during construction of the museum.

Made up of several panels, the Lod mosaic is some 17 meters long and 9 meters wide — approximately 180 square meters in area (some 1,940 square feet).

Among the colorful illustrations found on the mosaic are boats with oars, and animals including elephants, lions, birds, fish, and crustaceans. There is also plant life and flowers, vases and geometric patterns.

The combination of mosaics, artifacts and architectural evidence such as frescos from the late 3rd century–early 4th century Roman period uncovered in the excavations provides evidence of Mediterranean luxury that characterized the Roman empire, said Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologist Amir Gorzalczany, who directed one of the excavations following the discovery of a new section.

Lod mosaic during conservation work. (Emil Aladjem, Israel Antiquities Authority)

The new museum was dedicated Monday in a ceremony attended by donors Shelby White and representatives of the Leon Levy Foundation, Lod Mayor Leon Revivo and senior representatives of the Israel Antiquities Authority, the Tourism Ministry and the Lod Municipality, and other dignitaries.

“From the moment Leon and I saw this historic mosaic, we knew how important it was for the town of Lod and the world, and what it would do to make Lod a cultural center. I am thrilled to have the opportunity to be part of the restoration of the mosaic and the creation of this museum. Being here is a dream come true,” said White in an IAA press release.

A long journey home

Back in 1996, after identifying the importance of the Roman period piece, the IAA was left with a difficult decision: While the mosaic was glorious and mostly extant, without a budget and the means to conserve and display it its glory would be lost. With no way to preserve it and showcase its beauty, at the end of the 1996 dig it was again covered with earth until a donor could be found.

Mayor of Lod Yair Revivo, donor Shelby White and director of the Israel Antiquities Authority Eli Eskozido, at the Lod museum opening, June 27, 2022. (Yoli Schwartz, Israel Antiquities Authority)

In 2009, funding was found through the Leon Levy Foundation and Shelby White. The mosaic was again uncovered and it began a world tour to Paris, New York, San Francisco, Chicago and even Haifa as plans were slowly drafted for the Lod archaeology center.

A groundbreaking ceremony was held in 2017 with the objective of opening museum doors in 2019. Just as no one expects the Spanish Inquisition, a global pandemic can also throw a spanner in the works. Revivo, the Lod mayor, sounded a grateful note at the inauguration ceremony.

Shelby White & Leon Levy Lod Mosaic Archaeological Center (Peter Pen Stepansky)

“Some 26 years since it was discovered in 1996, we have reached this great day as we inaugurate the Shelby White & Leon Levy Lod Mosaic Archaeological Center, a source of local pride and a link to the timeless history of Lod – among the oldest cities in the world! Our dream for this city — itself a mosaic of cultures — is being realized today right before our eyes as we dedicate this most important museum, placing Lod on the world tourism map. We will enable people from around the country and the world to view this amazing treasure here in its original location, exactly where it was found,” said Revivo in an IAA press release.

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