Tip o’ the pileus to Lyndsay Powell for alerting us to this one from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln:
A University of Nebraska-Lincoln archeological team, led by Hixson-Lied Professor of Art History Michael Hoff, has uncovered a massive Roman mosaic in southern Turkey – a meticulously crafted, 1,600-square-foot work of decorative handiwork built during the region’s imperial zenith.
It’s believed to be the biggest mosaic of its type and demonstrates the reach and cultural influence of the Roman Empire in the area in the third and fourth centuries A.D., said Hoff, the director of the excavation.
“This is very possibly the largest Roman mosaic found in the region,” Hoff said. “And its large size also signals, in no small part, that the outward signs of the Roman Empire were, in fact, very strong in this far-flung area of the Empire.”
The discovery will aid researchers studying the region. Since 2005, Hoff’s team has been excavating the remains of the ancient city of Antiochia ad Cragum on the southern Turkish coast. Antiochus of Commagene, a client-king of Rome, founded the ancient city in the middle of the first century.
“The mosaic is a quintessential Roman artistic element. This hammers home how Roman this city truly is,” Hoff said. “We always thought this was a peripheral Roman city, but it’s becoming more and more clear that it’s weighted more on the Roman side than the native side. The mosaic really emphasizes the pure Roman nature of this city and should answer a lot of questions regarding the interaction between the indigenous locals and the Roman Empire.”
Antiochia ad Cragum was a modest city by Roman standards and outfitted with many of the typical trappings one would expect from a Roman provincial city – temples, baths, markets and colonnaded streets, said Hoff. The city thrived during the Empire from an economy that focused on agricultural products, especially wine and lumber.
Excavation work has focused on a third-century temple dedicated to the Roman imperial cult, and also a colonnaded street lined with commercial shops. In July, the team began to explore the mosaic, which was part of a Roman Bath. The decoration consists of large squares, each filled with different colored geometric designs and ornamentation.
“This would have been a very formal associated pavement attached to the bath,” Hoff said. “This is a gorgeous mosaic, and the size of it is unprecedented” – so large, in fact, that work crews have uncovered only an estimated 40 percent of its total area.
Hoff said it appears the mosaic served as a forecourt for the adjacent large bath, and that at least on one side, evidence shows there was a roof covering the geometric squares that would have been supported by piers. Those piers’ remains are preserved, he said.
Meanwhile, the middle of the mosaic was outfitted with a marble-lined, 25-foot-long pool, which would have been uncovered and open to the sun. The other half of the mosaic, adjacent to the bath, has yet to be revealed but is expected to contain the same type of decoration, Hoff said. Crews expect to unearth the entire work next summer.
“It should be pretty extraordinary,” Hoff said.
Team members first noticed the mosaic in 2001, when Nicholas Rauh of Purdue University, the director of a large archaeological survey project that included Hoff, noticed plowing by a local farmer had brought up pieces of a mosaic in a field next to a still-standing bath structure. The find was brought to the attention of the archeological museum in Alanya, who two years later made a minor investigation that revealed a small portion of the mosaic.
Last year, the museum invited Hoff to clear the entire mosaic and to preserve it for tourists to view and scholars to study.
Hoff’s 60-person team also included Birol Can, assistant professor of archaeology at Atatürk University in Ezrurum, Turkey, a sister university to the University of Nebraska; students from UNL; other students from Turkey and the United States; and workers from a nearby village. About 35 students participated in the project as part of a summer field school Hoff runs.
Phalin Strong, a sophomore art major from Lincoln, said the work was difficult but satisfying.
“It is strange to realize that you are the first person to see this for centuries – a feeling that also made me think about impermanence and what importance my actions have on humanity and history,” Strong said.
Ben Kreimer, a senior journalism major, agreed: “(Working on) the mosaic was great because the more soil you removed, the more mosaic there was,” he said. “Visually, it was also stunning, especially once it got cleaned off. It wasn’t very deep under the surface of the soil, either, so … we had to be careful not to swing the handpick too hard so as not to damage the priceless mosaic that lay just inches beneath us.”
Hoff said the significance of this summer’s discovery has him eager to return to the site and see what the rest of the excavation uncovers.
“As an archaeologist, I am always excited to make new discoveries. The fact that this discovery is so large and also not completely uncovered makes it doubly exciting,” he said. “I am already looking forward to next year, though I just returned from Turkey.”
… a photo accompanies the original article; it seems to have a nice mix of geometric styles if you want to give your mosaics class a little quiz.