A rare 1,800-year-old Byzantine-era Roman mosaic from the 2nd-3rd centuries BCE bearing an inscription in ancient Greek was recently discovered at Caesarea National Park, the Antiquities Authority says.
The mosaic was excavated during work by the Authority and the Caesarea Development Corporation throughout Caesarea National Park, in cooperation with the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.
The excavations are part of reconstruction work on the Crusaders-era entrance bridge to Caesarea, the authority said on Thursday.
“The project is part of the work on a promenade now under construction, led by the Caesarea Development Corporation, which will extend from the town of Jisr e-Zarka to Caesarea National Park,” it said in a statement.
“The dig uncovered part of a large, opulent building dating back 1,500 years to the Byzantine period. Scholars believe the building was part of an agora – a large public area for commerce and socializing – a kind of ancient version of Tel Aviv’s shopping complexes.”
To their surprise, the archeologists found under the imposing Byzantine-era structure the colorful mosaic from an even earlier building dating back approximately 1,800 years.
According to Dr. Peter Gendelman and Dr. Uzi Ad, directors of the excavation for the Antiquities Authority, the mosaic measures more than 3.5 x 8 meters and features three figures, multicolored geometric patterns, and a long inscription in Greek.
“The figures, all males, wear togas and apparently belonged to the upper class,” they said in a joint statement. “The central figure is frontal, and the two others face him on either side.”
Who they were, they noted, depends on what the building was used for, which remains unclear.
“If the mosaic was part of a mansion, the figures may have been the owners,” they said. “If this was a public building, they might have represented the donors of the mosaic, or members of the city council.”
Jacques Nagar, head of the authority’s Art Conservation Department, said the mosaic was executed at a very high artistic level, of a type that can be found in locations that include Antioch in Turkey.
“The images were depicted using small, densely placed tesserae [pieces of mosaic], with about 12,000 stones per square meter,” said Nagar.
“The Israel Antiquities Authority Conservation Administration is now working to make sure the exposed parts of the mosaic are preserved and will not disintegrate over time. The area of the bridge is also being re-planned to make the mosaic assessable to the public,” he added.
GUY SWERSKY, vice chairman of the Edmond de Rothschild Foundation, said Baron Benjamin de Rothschild and his wife, Baroness Ariane, have invested more than NIS 100 million in the expansive excavation project.
“Old Caesarea never stops surprising, fascinating and thrilling us – time after time revealing slices of history of worldwide significance,” he said.
“This amazing mosaic is a unique find in Israel. This is especially true considering where it was found in the northern part of the park, in an area that has hardly been excavated. This is more testimony to the importance of the unprecedented conservation and reconstruction project made possible by the foundation.”
Swersky added that the discovery will also pay dividends in terms of tourism.
“Beyond the great historical and archeological value of the new finds, is their economic significance in terms of upgrading the Israeli tourism product,” he said. “The find adds even more momentum to the development that the Edmond de Rothschild Foundation has initiated and promotes in Caesarea, and throughout the entire region.”
Michael Karsenti, CEO of the Caesarea Development Corporation, said the excavation, conservation and restoration work in Caesarea is carried out with strict attention to preserving the archeological, historical and natural elements at the site from all periods.
“In collaboration with our colleagues from the IAA [Israel Antiquities Authority] and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, we make sure to preserve every find in its natural place, and are investing huge resources to make the site accessible to Israeli visitors and tourists from all over the world,” he said.
Karsenti noted that Caesarea is one of the three most visited sites in Israel, attracting more than 700,000 Israeli and foreign tourists every year.
“The impressive mosaic joins the many other important recently unearthed archeological finds,” he said.
Among these are the altar of the temple built by Herod 2,000 years ago and mentioned by the ancient Jewish historian Josephus Flavius; a mother-of-pearl tablet etched with a seven-branched candelabrum; and the statue of a ram, which was a symbol of Christian congregation in the Byzantine period.