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Ancient Artisans' Footprints Discovered Beneath Lod Mosaic

Ancient sandal and bare foot prints have been discovered beneath one of the most magnificent mosaics to be revealed in an Israeli excavation site.
By Hana Levi Julian
First Publish: 10/14/2009, 11:44 AM / Last Update: 10/14/2009, 11:49 AM

Niki Davidov/IAA

The ancient footprints of the artisans who built a stunning 1,700-year-old mosaic floor in Lod were discovered recently when conservators from the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) were in the process of detaching the huge work of art from the ground. 

IAA conservators working on the mosaic (Israel news photo: Niki Davidov / IAA)

As the conservation experts worked on the plaster bedding to be done before detaching the mosaic, they were surprised to notice there were ancient foot and sandal prints beneath it. Clearly, the builders that had worked on the floor sometimes wore their sandals, and sometimes worked in their bare feet.

A sandal print shows that sometimes the builders wore their shoes (Israel news photo: Niki Davidov / IAA)

"It's exciting. This is the first time I have ever encountered personal evidence such as this under a mosaic," said Jacques Neguer, head of the IAA Art Conservation Branch, who referred to it as "a real archaeological gem that is extraordinarily well-preserved."  When removing a section of mosaic, it is customary to clean its bedding, and that way study the material from which it is made, and the construction stages, Neguer explained. "We look for drawings and sketches that the artists made in the plaster and marked where each of the tesserae will be placed."

Neguer said this is also what happened with the Lod mosaic. "Beneath a piece on which vine leaves are depicted, we discovered that the mosaic's builders incised lines that indicate where the tesserae should be set, and afterwards, while cleaning the layer, we found the imprints of the feet and sandals, sizes 34, 37, 42 and 44." At least one imprint of a sole resembled a modern sandal, he added. Based on the concentration of foot and sandal prints, "it seems that the group of builders tamped the mortar in place with their feet."

Bare foot prints were also found beneath the Lod mosaic (Israel news photo: Niki Davidov / IAA)

The mosaic is one of the largest and most magnificent ever seen in Israel, but although it was discovered in 1996, it was covered over again when no resources could be found for its conservation. Thirteen years later, the IAA received a contribution from the Leon Levy Foundation specifically earmarked for the preservation and development of the Lod site. The mosaic was re-excavated, exhibited to the public, and then conservators began the delicate process of removing it from the area for treatment in the IAA conservation laboratories in Jerusalem.

Measuring approximately 180 square meters, the mosaic is composed of colorful carpets that depict in exquisite detail mammals, birds, fish, floral species and sailing and merchant vessels that were in use at the time. It is believed that the mosaic floor was part of a villa that belonged to a wealthy man who lived during the Roman period.

The Lod mosaic is one of the largest and most magnificent ever discovered in Israel (Israel news photo: Niki Davidov / IAA)

The site, which is located in the eastern section of Lod, next to the entrance at Ginnaton Junction, is intended to become a springboard for tourism to the city. It is situated between HeHalutz and Struma Streets, which lead to the open air market and to the city's center.

"It is fascinating to discover a 1,700 year old personal mark of people who are actually like us, who worked right here on the same mosaic," Neguer remarked. "We feel the continuity of generations here."