Mosaic from Sweida … Seriously?

A very strange, brief item (to me, anyway) from Syrian TV:

 Sweida Antiquities Department said that parts of mosaic representing geometric shapes and dating back to the end of the Roman era and the beginning of the Byzantine era were discovered at a house in Shahba city in Sweida.

Head of Sweida Antiquities Department Hussein Zaineddin told said that the unearthed parts are 6 meters long and 4,5 meters wide.

Zaineddin added that the unearthed parts will be joined to the picture which was discovered in 1970. The previously discovered picture is 3,5 meters long and 4,5 meters wide .

He pointed out that the picture to be displayed later at Sweida or Shahba museums after restoring it.

The original article is accompanied by a less-than-useful photo which doesn’t really add any veracity to the report. Apparently — given all that’s going on in Syria right now — that archaeology is proceeding normally. I’m not really sure what “discovered in a house” means (was the mosaic removed from a site? was it in situ?)  and find it strange that we aren’t told where the “picture” portion is. I’m not sure we can lend any credence at all to this report.

Dragon and Dolphin (nope) Mosaic From Monasterace

This one is potentially very interesting … most of the coverage comes from ANSA-related outlets in various languages, so here’s the English coverage from Gazzetta del Sud:

Students on an archaeological dig near the southern Italian town of Monasterace have uncovered an important and ancient mosaic, authorities said Tuesday. The large mosaic, likely of ancient Greek origins, was discovered near another major find announced last fall by archaeologist Francesco Cuteri. Cuteri says he is pleased that students from Argentina and Italy made the latest mosaic discovery, which he added is an important find. “The discovery is of extraordinary importance because it is the largest Hellenic mosaic of Magna Grecia (an area of southern Italy),” he said. The mosaic, depicting dragon and dolphins, may date from the Hellenistic period, which ran from about 323 BC to about 146 BC. Work on the excavation began in 1998 and last year had already led to the discovery of a mosaic depicting a dragon, a rosette and six panels with floral motifs. Cuteri said work is far from finished. “We are confident….we can find at least two other panels,” he said, adding the new area has been dubbed ‘the hall of dragons and dolphins’. “We have worked on this excavation for 15 years and now what emerges fills us with joy”.

That said, I don’t understand why all the ANSA coverage includes what isn’t exactly the greatest photo available, i.e.:

via Gazzetta del Sud

Corriere della Calabria includes one that’s a bit more clear:

via Corriere della Calabria

… which raises a question: does the ‘dragon’ interpretation come via the first photo, which has something on top of it which makes it look like there are two creatures? So we’ll track down another photo (actually, the whole set, it seems):

via Mondo Tempo Reale

Seems we ain’t dealing with dolphins or dragons. Those are good old-fashioned Hippocampi/oi, no?

UPDATE (an hour or so later): definitely an argument for the benefits of caffeine … when the caffeine hit, I remembered we mentioned an earlier phase of this back in September: Hellenistic Mosaic From Monasterace … check out the photo there. How are they getting dragons and dolphins from this????

UPDATE II (a couple days later): tip o’ the pileus to the Random Classicist who wrote in to remind me of the beastie known as the Cetus, the foe of Perseus which I had totally forgotten about. Here’s an example of a Cetus image from the Classical Art Research Centre (a mosaic from Tunis) :

… so the thing I was calling a Hippocamp is clearly a Ketos/Cetus. Are they considered dragons? Or is that just something that happened during translation?

UPDATE III (the next day): Tip o’ the pileus to John Dillon, who also sent in some very useful comments:

_Ketos_ seems to be the contemporary term of choice among art historians for sea beasties of this form, though one still encounters _pistrix_ (and, in Italian, its derivative _pistrice_). Joseph Fontenrose (Python_, pp. 288-306) is helpful here, esp. pp. 288-89 and fig. 25 on p. 305; cf. also Barbette Stanley Spaeth, _The Goddess Ceres_, p. 135, and J. M. Blanquez, “Grifos y ketoi en mosaicos de Italia, Hispania, Africa y el Oriente”, in Nicole Blanc and André Buisson, edd., _Imago Antiquitatis_ (Paris, 1999), pp. 119-28; figs. 1-9. In Italian they’re conceived of as a sea serpent and thus as a sort of _drago_ and are popularly called by that latter term (_ketos_ and _pistrix_ both being far too specialized for a general audience). Since English _dragon_ tends to signify a four-legged, terrestrial creature, a better translation of _drago_ in this context would be _sea dragon_.

A few further ancient and medieval _ketoi_:
1) A red-figure vase in the Museo Jatta in Ruvo di Puglia [but how much of this is down to a modern restorer?]

2) The sea wind (at right) on the Ara Pacis Augustae:

3) Jonah and the “whale” in mosaic on the epistle ambo (said to be earlier C12 but I’d check to see what Jill Caskey has to say before repeating this standard dating) in the cathedral of Ravello:

4) Detail of the later C12 mosaic floor of the cathedral of Otranto:

5) At far left, on the probably earlier C13 mosaic frieze on the cathedral of Terracina:


Eros Mosaic from A-A-A-A-A-dana

Interesting item from Hurriyet:

A mosaic featuring an Eros figure fishing on horse has been found in the southern province of Adana’s Yumurtalık district. The half fish-half horse Eros, which is called Hippocampus in Greek mythology, is claimed to be the one and only such mosaic in the world.

Made up of marble, glass and stone, the mosaic is estimated to date back to the late Roman or early Byzantine era.

The Adana Museum Directorate has initiated archaeological excavations in the region where the mosaic was discovered. One week ago the existence of a villa was determined in the area. The villa was thought to be owned by a top state official and the Eros mosaic was revealed when a part of the villa was excavated.

Yumurtalık Deputy Mayor Erdol Erden said the Eros mosaic was found during a one-week excavation. “We found young and adult Eros figures in the villa. Experts say that these figures were the first and only such figures in the world,” Erden said.

… as often, the original article is accompanied by a photo of the piece which is really interesting … there are a pair of Erotes fishing from the backs of hippocampi … the Erotes also look rather more mature than we’re used to (not the pudgy little kids); the one actually looks like one of the BeeGees …

Odyssey Mosaics Stolen!!!

Just this a.m. in our Explorator newsletter we were mentioning how looting of antiquities was funding the revolution in Syria … and now my spiders bring in some horrible news from AFP via  the Global Post:

At least 18 ancient mosaics depicting scenes from Homer’s “The Odyssey” have been stolen in northern Syria, the culture minister was quoted as saying on Sunday.

“These mosaics were stolen during illegal excavations” on archaeological sites in the war-torn country’s northeast, Lubana Mushaweh said in an interview published on Sunday by the government daily Tishreen.

“We have been informed that these mosaics are now on the Syrian-Lebanese border,” she said without elaborating.

As the nearly two-year Syrian revolt has morphed into an armed insurgency, experts say fierce fighting and deteriorating security have left the country’s extraordinary archaeological heritage susceptible to damage and prey to a rising number of looters.

The minister said that an Aramaic gold-plated bronze statue was stolen from the Hama museum, a raging front in the war between loyalist troops and rebels.

Mushaweh admitted that her ministry faced great difficulties in “safeguarding 10,000 historical sites scattered around Syria,” cautioning against illegal excavations “which could damage some sites and buried cities.”

But she insisted that museums across the country were “well guarded” and “their prized possessions for all humanity have been archived and placed in very secure locations”.

… I can’t track down from what museum or site these were stolen from (“illegal excavations”) and if they were already known or not … the only photos that seem to accompany articles are some rebels sitting under a Roman mosaic that I don’t think (or hope) is related …

Another Nice Mosaic Find

From Hurriyet:

A mosaic from the second or third century with a human figure has been found during the construction of a district bazaar area in the southern province of Mersin’s Tarsus district.

Tarsus Gov. Orhan Şefik Güldibi said the mosaic was unearthed by chance in the construction area.
“Maybe we have reached one of the most important archaeological remains in Tarsus. We know that the history of Tarsus dates back to ancient ages. We have found Orpheus mosaics on the ancient Roman road next to the courthouse. It shows us the richness of the district’s archaeological treasures,” he said.

After unearthing the mosaic, construction work was halted and scientific work was initiated. The district governor said that there was a structure 25 meters by five meters in the area they thought could be a water cistern from the early Roman period.

“This structure may also be the remains of a bath, palace or villa. We will see after the examinations. The human mosaic has Greek writing on it, which will be translated by experts. We think there are other mosaics around this one. We will restore and display it,” Güldibi said.

… as often, Hurriyet includes an annoyingly small photo of the mosaic (we want to read the Greek!!!!), ecce:

… I can’t figure it out, other than perhaps to suggest this is the origin of North American style football as we clearly have a quarterback sporting a playoff beard … more coffee needed.