Mosaic Discovery In Turkey Demonstrates Cultural Influence Of Roman Empire

Lawrence LeBlond for – Your Universe Online

An archaeological team from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln has unearthed a massive Roman mosaic in southern Turkey in what is being described as the largest mosaic of its type ever found in a region that was heavily influenced by the Roman Empire during the third and fourth centuries.

Professor Michael Hoff, of UNL, director of the excavation, said “Its size signals, in no small part, that the outward signs of the empire were very strong in this far-flung area“¦We were surprised to have found a mosaic of such size and of such caliber in this region — it’s an area that had usually been off the radar screens of most ancient historians and archeologists, and suddenly this mosaic comes into view and causes us to change our focus about what we think (the region) was like in antiquity.”

The 1,600 square-foot work was hand-crafted during the region´s imperial zenith.

Hoff and his colleagues have been excavating the remains of the ancient city of Antiochia ad Cragum on the southern coast of Turkey since 2005. The city was founded in the middle of the first century by Antiochus of Commagene, a client-king of Rome.

Hoff said the area is fairly new to archeology. “It’s not a place in which archaeologists have spent a lot of time, so everything we find adds more evidence to our understanding of this area of the Roman Empire.”

“We’re beginning to understand now that it was more Romanized, more in line than the rest of the Roman world than was suspected before. (The nature of the mosaic) hammers home how Roman this city truly is,” he added.

The ancient city was very typical of a Roman provincial city. It had temples, baths, markets and pillared streets, Hoff explained. Antiochia de Cragum thrived during the Roman Empire, with an economy rich in agriculture, wine and lumber.

Hoff´s excavation focused mainly on the third-century imperial temple, along with a colonnaded (pillared) street lined with shops. The mosaic, which is part of a Roman bath, was discovered in 2001, but Hoff and crew had not begun exploring it until this past July. It had large decorative tiles, each filled with colored geometric designs and ornate markings.

“This is a gorgeous mosaic, and its size is unprecedented” — so large, in fact, that work crews have uncovered only an estimated 40 percent of its total area, Hoff said.

The middle section of the mosaic was outfitted with a marble-lined, 25-foot-long pool, which was 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 ornate detail, Hoff explained.

The entire mosaic is expected to be uncovered by next summer.

The mosaic first came to light in 2001 when a farmer upturned a few pieces of a mosaic in a field next to a still-standing bath structure. Hoff was part of the 2001 team that witnessed the unearthing. The discovery was brought to the attention of the archaeological museum in Alanya, who, two years later, led a small investigation that revealed a small area of the mosaic.

Last year, the museum invited Hoff and his team to uncover the mosaic and preserve it for tourists and scholars. The 60-person archaeological team include researchers from University of Nebraska and others from Turkey and the US, as well as workers from a nearby village. About 35 students have participated in the summer project.

Hoff said he is eager to return next year to continue the excavations and see what else the site has to offer.

“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“¦I am already looking forward to next year, though I just returned from Turkey,” he concluded.