Renowned Ancient Roman Mosaic from Israel, on International Tour, Makes Final U.S. Stop at the Penn Museum

The Roman mosaic from Lod, Israel was discovered in 1996 during highway construction in Lod (formerly Lydda). Image courtesy of Penn Museum
The Roman mosaic from Lod, Israel was discovered in 1996 during highway construction in Lod (formerly Lydda). Image courtesy of Penn Museum

PHILADELPHIA, PA—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.Unearthing a Masterpiece: A Roman Mosaic from Lod, Israel opens at the Penn Museum February 10, at 1:00 pm, for a run through May 19, 2013.

Opening Day Special Guests and Festivities

The exhibition opening begins at 1:00 pm Sunday with a ribbon cutting ceremony. Joining Julian Siggers, Penn Museum Williams Director, are Yaron Sideman, Consul General of Israel to the Mid-Atlantic Region; Renato Miracco, Cultural Attaché, Italian Embassy; and Luigi Scotto, Consul General of Italy in Philadelphia. Brian Rose, Mediterranean Section Curator-in-Charge and content expert for the exhibition, and Kate Quinn, Exhibition Director, participate.

Dr. Rose draws guests into the process of “Deciphering the Lod Mosaic” at a 2:00 pm talk.  A Family Second Sunday Workshop, “Marvelous Mosaics,” invites guests of all ages to discover the many mosaics in the Penn Museum’s collection, and create an original mosaic in the walk-in workshop from 1:00 to 4:00 pm.

About the Exhibition

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 about at 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.

A rescue excavation conducted immediately by the Israel Antiquities Authority revealed a mosaic floor approximately 50 feet long by 27 feet wide. Image courtesy of Penn Museum.

The exhibition features the three most complete and impressive panels found in what was probably a large reception room. Within the central panel—which measures 13 feet square—is a series of smaller squares and triangles depicting various birds, fish, and animals that surround a larger octagonal scene with ferocious wild animals—a 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 ago—some wearing sandals and others working barefoot—were 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 BCE—in a list of towns in Canaan that was compiled during the reign of the pharaoh Thutmose III (1479–1425 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.

Details about the mosaic, its discovery, history, conservation, and presentation, can be found online:

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 Main Entrance doors—the only Museum doors large enough to allow the oversized sections of the Mosaic to enter and exit. Additional support is provided by the Julian A. and Lois G. Brodsky Foundation.


Penn Museum (the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology), celebrating its 125th anniversary in 2012, is dedicated to the study and understanding of human history and diversity. Founded in 1887, the Museum has sent more than 400 archaeological and anthropological expeditions to all the inhabited continents of the world. With an active exhibition schedule and educational programming for children and adults, the Museum offers the public an opportunity to share in the ongoing discovery of humankind’s collective heritage.


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