From Zeugma to Belkis

Zeugma has become one of the most frequently heard words over recent months, not just in the Turkish but in the world press. Founded by the Macedonian Seleucid ruler Nicator I, this Hellenistic city grew in prosperity during Roman times since it lay on the trade road which stretched eastwards across Asia to China. Zeugma’s huge wealth was reflected in the homes of its inhabitants. Rich merchants and Roman noblemen and officers vied with one another to adorn their houses with the world’s loveliest mosaics, ceramics, statues, and frescos. Zeugma has been described in international literature as the ‘second Pompei’. The people of Zeugma enjoyed a magnificent lifestyle in their city on the Euphrates until the Sassanid invasion in 252 AD, when the city was burnt and razed. This was followed shortly afterwards by a violent earthquake, and a city which had extended over an area of 2100 hectares was buried beneath rubble, and fell into a sleep from which it was not to wake for nearly two thousand years. After the Turks took the region, the city became known as the Belkıs Ruins.
Recent Excavations and The Legacy of Ancient Zeugma

In 1987 Gaziantep Museum excavated two tomb chambers which had been broken into by antiquity smugglers in the necropolis southwest of Zeugma, revealing frescos on the walls and statues on the terraces in front of the chambers. These statues are now in Gaziantep Museum. In 1992 the watchman at the site, Nusret Özdemir, reported renewed illegal activity here, and a trench dug by antiquity hunters was discovered in the centre of the city.Excavations commenced on the same spot by a team from Gaziantep Museum led by director Rifat Ergeç uncovered a Roman villa and magnificent mosaic pavements. The 1st century AD villa consisted of galleries around an atrium with eight columns and rooms behind the galleries. The mosaic which adorned the vill’se gallery depicted the marriage of Dionysus, god of wine and grapes, to Ariadne. Sadly, six of the ten figures portrayed in this mosaic were stolen on 15 June 1998. In further excavations here, in which David Kennedy from Australia participated in 1993, part of the central panel of the mosaic pavement belonging to the terrace of another villa turned out to have been stolen long since - probably around 1965 - so the two figures are missing from the knees upwards.The missing mosaic fragment was later found to be in the Menil Collection at Rice University in the city of Houston. The two figures seated side by side in this mosaic are the two legendary lovers, Metiokhos and Parthenope. At the request of the Turkish Ministry of Culture, the stolen fragment was returned, and the complete mosaic can now be seen in Gaziantep Museum.When mosaic fragments were discovered during construction of the Birecik Dam wall which commenced in 1996, Gaziantep Museum had the work halted while excavations were carried out that revealed a Roman bath and gymnasium, and 36 mosaic panels which were added to the museum collection. In 1997, on the clay quarry area in front of the dam wall a large bronze age cemetery was discovered and excavated. Nearly eight thousand pottery vessels were found in 320 graves going back to the early bronze age. The museum staff worked unceasingly through the winter of 1998-1999, uncovering such important and beautiful finds as the Akratos and Gypsy Girl Mosaic and 65,000 bulla (seal imprints in clay) in an archive room at İskeleüstü, making Gaziantep Museum possessor of the largest bulla collection in the world. In 1999, in a building in the lower quarter of the city, mosaics depicting the head of Dionysus and Oceanos and Tethys with sea creatures were discovered.From 1996 onwards, with the threat of being submerged under the waters of the new dam, salvage excavations were carried out by C. Abadie Reynal of Nantes University in France together with archaeologists from Gaziantep and Şanlıurfa museums. In 1999 a mosaic pavement depicting the mythological Minos bull was discovered at Mezarlıküstü, and at the end of the excavation season further mosaics were visible at the threshholds of other rooms. Not wishing to leave the mosaics at the mercy of the treasure hunters who are so active in the area, Gaziantep Museum’s acting director Fatma Bulgan decided to carry on with excavations through the winter months. Despite difficult weather conditions they went on to uncover a fountain with its own tank at a depth of three metres, and a marble figure of Apollo, as well as another mosaic pavement with nine figures depicting Achilles being taken by Odysseus to fight in the Trojan War. Also during salvage excavations under Mehmet Önal, an archaeologist from Gaziantep Museum, two more Roman villas were uncovered. These villas, which stood side by side, were burned and razed by the Sassanids in 252. The fact that they lay under three metres of rubble had protected them from treasure hunters, and their frescos, mosaics and other artifacts were almost completely intact. A bronze statue of Mars, which aroused increased media interest in Zeugma, was found amongst storage jars in the larder of one of the villas. Altogether seventeen mosaic pavements have been revealed in the villas, whose walls were decorated with colourful frescoes. Excavations of Zeugma have been divided into three areas, initial priority being given to salvage and documentation in Zone A, which sank under the dam waters in early July. Work then moved on to Zone B, which will be submerged in October 2000 when the dam water reaches its maximum level of 385 metres. Zone C, on the other hand, consists of the higher parts of the city which will not be affected by the new dam. Zeugma is one of the foremost of Turkey’s archaeological and historic sites, and the attention focused upon it from all over the world will undoubtedly continue over the years ahead.
Current Situation: Fund Raising and the First Sponsors

Since 1996 diverse salvage excavations have been carried out at Zeugma. As water collects in the reservoir of Birecik Dam, which is located very close to Zeugma, the city is gradually disappearing under water. Huge resources are required to save works in the as yet unsubmerged upper part of the city, on which the eyes of the world are now focused. In 1999 salvage excavations were maintained and accelerated by the financial support of Gaziantep Governorship (in this respect Governer Muammer GÜLER deserves a credit for his extraordinary efforts to unearth the legacy of Zeugma). Aware that no government can afford the sums necessary to realise the dreams of archaeologists, non-governmental and private organisations have set to work to raise funds, and the first five million dollars has been donated by the American Packard Humanities Institute (PHI). In 2000 Excavations carried out in zones A and B were carried out under the coordination of the GAP Regional Development Authority and the auspices of the Ministry of Culture and by two local sponsors SANKO Holding and TOFAŞ. Salvage excavations in zone B began in July (2000) with the participation of international archaeological teams.The Turkish and world public wish to see the works of art from Zeugma properly housed at Gaziantep Museum as soon as possible, but since room in the museum stores is limited this marvellous collection is currently standing in the open air in the museum grounds. Construction of the new museum annex has halted temporarily due to lack of funds, but the museum is hoping to find a sponsor or additional funds soon. Those who see even a small part of the peerless Zeugma finds at Gaziantep Museum are certain to lend momentum to the campaign; at least, so we can only hope.

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