A mosaic floor from about 1,600 years ago that was discovered in archaeological excavations in the city of Yavne, 15 miles south of Tel Aviv, will be put on public display at the city’s cultural center, in a joint initiative launched by Yavne municipality, the Israel Antiquities Authority, and the Israel Land Authority.
The multicolored mosaic floor, dated to the Byzantine period (4-5 century CE) was unearthed in archaeological excavations directed by Avishag Reiss of the IAA. The floor is decorated with colorful geometric motifs and has a black rectangular frame.
“At first, we did not realize that the floor is multicolored,” said Dr. Elie Haddad and Dr. Hagit Torgë. “We assumed that it was a simple, white mosaic floor belonging to yet another industrial installation. But black patches dotted around the mosaic suggested that it was more than one color, which prompted us to remove the whitish patina that had coated it for years. The conservation director went to work cleaning the mosaic with a special acid, and to our astonishment, a colorful mosaic carpet was revealed, ornamented with geometric motifs.”
According to the archaeologists, this is the first time that such a floor has been uncovered in Yavne and its preservation is excellent. In their opinion, “the floor may have been part of a splendid residential building in a wealthy neighborhood adjacent to the industrial zone.”
Yavne was one of the major ancient cities in Israel’s southern coastal plain. It is mentioned in the Bible and documented in traditional Jewish sources. It was here that modern Judaism was born after the destruction of Jerusalem in the year 70 CE and the loss of the Second Temple when Rabban Yochanan Ben Zakkai moved the Sanhedrin to Yavne. The labor of preserving the Oral Torah was begun in Yavne, transforming Judaism into a new reality where the central Temple no longer existed, and preserving laws, the calendar, and liturgy, to become modern Judaism as we know it today. The Sanhedrin left Yavne for Usha in 80 CE and returned in 116 CE.
In recent years, the IAA has been conducting large-scale archaeological excavations southeast of Tel Yavne, as part of the ILA’s city development program. The excavations, directed by Dr. Elie Haddad, Liat Nadav-Ziv, and Dr. Jon Seligman, unearthed an extensive industrial zone that was in operation for several centuries.
Yavne Mayor Zvi Gur-Ari said that “archaeological preservation and awareness of the past are important values in the life of the city of Yavne, which has a magnificent history. In an age of progress and accelerated development in all fields of life, future generations should also be able to see how the city has evolved throughout history. We will continue to work with the Israel Antiquities Authority to ensure public access to the finds and continued research and understanding of the city’s past and its historical importance.”
Once the mosaic had been documented, drawn, and photographed in the field, it was removed and temporarily transferred to the IAA’s mosaic workshop at the Rockefeller Museum, where it has been treated and preserved by conservation experts. A suitable location was then found for the mosaic in the plaza near Yavne’s cultural center, in cooperation between the IAA and the Yavne municipality, with assistance from the ILA.
The mosaic floor’s relocation and preservation will be carried out using ancient technological methods and employing materials similar to those used in antiquity. During the work, the site will be open to the public, enabling visitors to watch the conservation process and the gradual uncovering of the mosaic floor.
IAA Archaeologist Diego Barkan welcomed his agency’s fruitful collaboration with the ILA and the Yavne municipality. “I am happy that the mosaic will be displayed in a central location in the city so that the values embodied in its heritage are preserved and made accessible to the general public,” he said.