During September 2004 an excavation was conducted at the ‘Herodian Quarter’ site in the Old City of Jerusalem (License No. B-286/2004). The excavation, on behalf of the Institute of Archaeology of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and the Israel Exploration Society, was carried out by the Jewish Quarter Archaeological Expedition, directed by H. Geva, with the assistance of O. Gutfeld, R. Nenner-Soriyano (surveying) and G. Laron (photography of mosaic).
The excavation was undertaken, following the removal of the ‘Meandering Mosaic’, which is dated to the time of the Second Temple and was exposed in the 1970s excavation of Avigad (Area F, L931; for a photograph of the mosaic, see N. Avigad, The Upper City of Jerusalem, Jerusalem 1980, Fig. 165 [Hebrew]). The mosaic, which adorned a large room in a Second Temple-period dwelling in the Upper City of Jerusalem, is on display in the main part of the ‘Herodian Quarter’ site (the Vahl Museum) in the Jewish Quarter. It was temporarily removed for renovation, funded by the Corporation for the Renovation and Development of the Jewish Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem, Ltd.
An earlier decorated mosaic (exposed area c. 3 × 3 m; Fig. 1) was discovered 0.3 m below the removed mosaic. It was destroyed on the western side by the wall of the room that contained the later, removed mosaic and on its eastern and southern sides by later disturbances. The northern end of the early mosaic was not exposed. The geometric pattern decorating the center of the mosaic section is composed of an outer red-painted square frame and an inner red-painted square frame, which contains three black concentric circles, whose segmented division is marked by black lines. A row of red semicircles is marked on the perimeter, inside the outer circle. The southern part of the concentric circles’ pattern was destroyed and repaired with a small patch of white tesserae and with gray plaster further south, while the mosaic was still in use.
The fill between the two mosaic layers was compact and consisted of light brown soil that contained a large quantity of small fresco plaster pieces and a few potsherds from the first century CE on the early mosaic floor. A worn coin that may probably date to the year 30 CE was found above the floor. It is noteworthy that this is the first time in the excavations of the Jewish Quarter that two mosaic floors from the Second Temple period are discovered one above the other.
During September 2005, the early mosaic was removed for conservation. The mosaic’s bedding consisted of a crushed, tamped-chalk layer. A small probe (1.2 × 1.2 m) excavated in the bedding exposed in its southern side a fieldstone-built wall, oriented east–west. Bedrock, descending to the east, was discovered c. 1.2 m below the mosaic. The soil fill in the probe contained potsherds, dating mostly to the end of the first century BCE, as well as a few fragments from Iron II. It can therefore be assumed that the early mosaic was installed at the end of Herod’s reign or at the very beginning of the first century CE.