Unearthed in 1996 during road works near Tel Aviv, the 1,700-year-old Lod Mosaic has survived in remarkably pristine condition. Conserved layers of the excavation even show the footprints of those who made it. Its size (the full series of floors is 15 metres long and eight metres wide) and its level of workmanship means whoever commissioned it must have been extremely wealthy. And yet it remains enigmatic-unusually, no human figures or deities are pictured, making it impossible to say for certain the nationality or religion of the owner. It is also difficult thematically to reconcile the violent scenes of wild beasts with the panel of ships and sea creatures. Some argue that the owner must have been a dealer in exotic animals, while others believe the mosaic is an ex-voto giving thanks for deliverance from shipwreck.
The three best-preserved panels have toured the world and are on display until October 26 at Waddesdon Manor, Buckinghamshire, which was bequeathed to the National Trust by James de Rothschild in 1957. Lord Rothschild explains what the mosaic means to him: “We’re very proud that the mosaic should be coming to Waddesdon after having been shown at the Metropolitan Museum, the Louvre and the Altes Museum. From Waddesdon it will go to the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg and from there home to Lod. It will then never leave Israel again.
“The Rothschilds have had a longstanding interest in and support of archaeology in Israel across several generations. Baron Edmond de Rothschild even went so far as to try and acquire the Wailing Wall.”