Dam in Turkey May Soon Flood A '2nd Pompeii'
Here, as in several parts of southern Turkey, water is rising inexorably around a doomed village as an artificial lake builds up behind a new dam, part of the government's ambitious plans to generate electric power and irrigate vast areas of dry land.
But in Belkis, the swelling waters are not just disrupting lives or forever submerging long-cherished homes. In the last few months, archaeologists have found that an ancient city that once stood here holds what many experts are calling one of the world's richest collections of Roman mosaics. Much of it is about to disappear before anyone even has a chance to see it.
''This is a real tragedy,'' said Mehmet Onal, the archaeologist who is supervising a frantic effort to rescue what can be saved before the site is inundated. ''We've only excavated two villas, and we found 12 beautiful mosaics. There are hundreds of villas under the earth, so you can imagine what remains to be found. The scale of what we have here is really unbelievable.''
''If we can have four months, we can pass the Antakya Museum, and if we have two years we can pass the one in Tunis,'' Mr. Onal said. The museum in the Turkish city of Antakya, which was known in antiquity as Antioch, has this region's finest collection of ancient mosaics, and the one in Tunis is considered the finest in the world. The director of the government's energy and irrigation project in southern Turkey said he could not assess the cultural value of the site. The provincial governor said he was powerless to stop the inundation of what he called ''a second Pompeii.''
If all proceeds according to plan, that leaves Mr. Onal and the handful of archaeologists working here with him only about a month before much of this site disappears. Every day they are excavating and removing artifacts, not just mosaics but others ranging from a five-foot-high bronze statue of Mars to 65,000 ceramic impressions of family and official seals, more than have ever been found at a single site.
The mosaics, many of which depict scenes of Greek mythology, are being lifted and taken to a museum in the nearby provincial capital of Gaziantep. Two that have been uncovered in recent days are still in place. Both are magnificently preserved and compare in quality with those in great museums. One depicts Poseidon on his chariot along with the water deities Thetis and Oceanus. The other shows Perseus saving Andromeda from a sea monster. Each is the size of a mid-sized room.
A few steps away from these two mosaics is an atrium covered with dirt and fragments of Roman columns. Archaeologists believe they will uncover another mosaic when they clear the debris in the next few days. The city that stood here 2,000 years ago, Zeugma, was at the eastern edge of the Roman Empire. It had an estimated 70,000 residents and was the base for a Roman legion. Its position on the banks of the Euphrates River, and its role as a thriving center of Silk Road trade, made it immensely wealthy.
Rich traders competed with each other to decorate the floors of their villas with the most exquisite mosaics. In the third century, Zeugma is believed to have suffered an invasion, a devastating fire and an earthquake in quick succession. It has lain undisturbed since then, covered by thick layers of dirt and rubble.
Archaeologists have worked sporadically here for several years but began concentrated excavation only last winter, after it became clear that the site was about to be lost. They say they are amazed at what they have found. ''We knew we were looking at some fine work, but suddenly in these last couple of months we've realized that this is a major world-class site,'' said Christine Kondoleon, curator of Greek and Roman Art at the Worcester Art Museum in Massachusetts, who is visiting ancient ruins in Turkey this month.
''Photos that have been coming out of there show that the mosaics are very rich, very elaborate and truly extraordinary,'' Ms. Kondoleon said. ''It would be a huge shame if we lose this site, especially if we never even see what's there. The whole thing is really upsetting because this is a great, great treasure.
'' Just down the dirt road from where archaeologists were digging, a farmer named Abdulrahma Kizilirmak, who had lived all of his 63 years in Belikis, sat stoically on a brick wall and watched as the village slowly disappeared. He has heard promises that he will get a fair price for the house he is losing, but doesn't believe them.
''I'm so mad I'm about ready to pick up a gun,'' Mr. Kizilirmak said as he gazed out at a herd of cows grazing in a hillside cemetery that will soon be gone. ''We were comfortable and prosperous until the government came. Now even old stones are considered more important than we are. People are working to save the stones, but no one's doing anything for us.''
The dam that stands just half a mile from the site is part of the multibillion-dollar Southeast Anatolia Project, which is a centerpiece of Turkey's development plans. Some of the dams envisioned by the project's planners, especially one that would lead to the flooding of the Kurdish town of Hasankeyf, 200 miles east of here on the Tigris River, have become the focus of international protest. Dams in places like Hasankeyf, however, are not yet built. The one here is complete. Most of its gates were shut on April 29 to begin the process of creating the artificial lake whose water will be used for power generation.
The director of the massive project, Olcay Unver, an American-trained engineer, said in a telephone interview from his office in the capital, Ankara, that he was not familiar with details of the archaeological discoveries here.
''Unfortunately, all infrastructure projects are interventions with the physical system, and in some cases that does affect cultural or historic sites,'' Mr. Unver said. ''The bottom line is to put in a sincere effort to minimize loss. When that's not possible, you have to take precautions either to move what's there, or at least to establish a complete documentation of what is being lost.'' The local governor, Muammar Guler, said he was powerless to stop the inundation, but added that less than half of the site would be flooded, and that he hoped the rest would be excavated and ultimately become an open-air museum. ''Besides, the dam only has a life span of 50 years,'' he said. ''So our grandchildren will be able to see the part that is being flooded this month.'' Several of the mosaics that have recently been removed from Belkis are lying under tarpaulins in the front yard of the archaeological museum in Gaziantep. The museum's director, Hakki Alkan, said there were plans to build a new wing to house them, but he conceded that the government's apparently limited interest in classical art made the project uncertain.
''We did everything we could to preserve the site, but no one was listening,'' Mr. Alkan said. ''The state has made its decision. Energy policy is more important than cultural and historical projects.''
(By STEPHEN KINZER /May 7, 2000, Sunday –New York Times
The river Euphrates flows fast in canyons and quiet on plains while giftings its banks with fertlility and abundance and supporting civilizations for thousands of years. In one green valley where it flows quiet, the city of Selevkeia Euphrates (Zeugma) had been founded on small hills overlooking the river. Selevkos Nikator I, King of Selevkos gave this settlement the name of Selevkeia Euphrates, combining his name with that of the sacred river. The mosaic master of the antic city had covered the walls of buildings in the city with mosaics which reflected the mythological themes of the time and sacredness of the river for the fertility and abundance it brought. Mosaic descriptions of compassion and sacredness attributed to the Euphrates have reached to our times after two thousand years. The most important characteristic of mosaics in Zeugma is that they have survived well. The main factor explaining this condition of mosaics is that the Roman houses which had been destroyed in a Sassanid attack were then covered with 3-4 meters deep erosion soil. Another feature of the mosaics stem from the fact that they were made during the heyday of the roman art which mastered in expressing motion, live bodies and delicate light-shadow balances. There is no marble to work on in and around Zeugma. So mosaics and frescoes were used to embellish villas and satisfy human aspirations. Since it had many rich people,the whole city was decorated with mosaics and frescoes. Mosaic pieces (tessera) including all tones of six major colors were made of natural gravel collected from the banks of the Euphrates. Whenever mosaic masters could not find gravel that were light blue, light green and orange they made it out of glass. These glass tessera gave extraordinary fineness, liveliness and attractiveness to mosaics. In the period 1998-2000, Gaziantep Museum conducted rescue work in the area under my personal responsibility. The following are mosaics on the Euhrates theme uncovered in this work:
Okeanos (Father) and Tethis (Mother) of the Euphrates :
This floor mosaic illusrates the father and mother of the Euphrates. The busts of Okeanos, the father, and Teshis, the mother, are side by side. The Father is bearded with a big mustache, double lobsters are tied to his hair and there is a wheel on his right shoulders. Tethis has double wings an her head. The River dragon appears in between. On three corners, there are Eros descriptions each riding a dolphin and looking at opposite directions. On the upper left cerned we see Pan while fishing. Okeanos is a universal river. His wife Tethis expresses the fertlity of sea. One son of Okeanos İs the Euphrates (That is why the antic city of Zeugma located on the Euphrates respected Okeanos so much in mosaics).This mosaic was found in 1999 in the antic city on the floor of a shallow pond surrounded by columns.
Belkıs/Zeugma gave another mosaic on which the father mother of the Euphrates Appear. Here we see the Got Poseidon a golden chariot drawn by two silver colored horses and holding a spear in his left hand. On the lower part there are the busts of Okeanos and Tedhis. The standing af these busts and their facing opposite directions are akin to figures in the first mosaic. There are river dragons an their shoulders. Additional figures of dolphins, octopus and shrims give the image of a sea.This mosaics was faund in 2000 on the floor of the columned pond (peristil) in a Roman villa.
The River God Euphrates:
This Figure appears on the floor of an octagonal shallow pool in zeugma. Here, the Euphrates is half lying on a divan. From a earth jar under his elbow runs the river and earth Receiving its water becomes green. The god is nakedfrom the waist up, holds a branch in his left hand and there is a tree just near his feet.This mosaics was uncovered in 2000 in a location called “Mezarlıküstü” in the corridor of a Roman villa. There are two shallow pools in the corridor.
The Young River and the Siren :
Half naked young river god is half lying on grass with his elbow on a podium. On the upper left corner there is a house with a triangle shaped facing and wals on both sides. This young rived god most be symbolizing a tributary to the Euphrates (Merzimen). This is the floor mosaic of the corridor with pools. It appear in a rectangular panel located to the left of the Euphrates. To the right of the Euphrates there is a half lying siren with her elbow on the grass.A stream comes out of her elbow. This must be symbolizing springs feedingg brooks that carry water to the Euphrates.
Demeter, the Goddess of Fertility :
To the right of the Gods of the Euphrates and in a square pool,there is a mosaic of Demeter,crowned with spica and flowers, having a horn of fertility on one shoulder.There the mosaic artist describes the fertility and abundance that the river brings by first running the water from the pool where the gods of the Euphrates appear and then conveying it to pool where Demeter stands. In the center of this mosaic is the famele face and upper body of Demeter centered within an octagonal frame. This surrounded by an actaonal berder containing a wave like pattern which is found within two square interlocking frames featuring different geometric patterns. These two squares from an star with eight points. Immeditiately outside these frames and contained within a circular border are eight semicircular designs resembling axe heads. This large circle sits within a square border which las plant like designs in the corners. The number 8 appearing in this panel must be related to Persephone, the daughter of Demeter since Zeus had decided that Persephone should stay with her mather Demeter for two thirds of a year ( 8 months) whic is the time of blossoming and fruit harvest, and with her husband Hades for the remaining 3 months (winter). According to the legend Demeter does not part from Persephone. This couple consisting of a mother and a doughter are called “ two goddesses” (Ertan, A. 1996, A Glossary ao Mythology, p. 85). The mother and the daughter is not separeted in the mosaics of Zeugma as well and Persephone is illustrated by geometrical ornaments placed according to the rule of number 8.
Akheloos, King of the Euphrates :
The fertility of the Euphrates was a theme for another Zeugma mosaic. The had af Akheloos, King of the Euphrates was illustrated together with the horn of fertility giving out many fruits . Akheloos has a mustached appearing as wings and his hair is ornamented with flowers. His Forehead is crowned with a double fertility horn. There also appear such fruits as grapes, pear, fig, pomegranate, medlar and sunflower all growing in the Euphrates area..
Mehmet ONAL-Archaelogist of Gaziantep Museum)
Welcome to Turkey. When did you arrive?
Thank you. GAP and the Packard Humanites Intitute, a charitable organization, signed a memorandum of understanding in June 2000. Under this agreement, the OAU quickly stepped in to assume averall project management. I come shortly after, under the OAU.
Why OAU?
OAU professionals are experienced in the archaelogical mnagement of large-scale infrastructure projects, archaelogical evaluation and enviromental impact assessment and rescue archaelogy. Since it was founded in 1973, it has devoted much of its time to research on Iron Age and Roman sites in various parts of England. We have also helped develop environmental assessment and evaluation techniques. Many developers value the depth of experience and range of services we can bring to their projects.
Where else has the OAU worked?
OAU has worked in Ukraine, Greece, Libya, Montserrat and Oman. We are also currently involved in projects in Ireland; Ossetia, Italy and Chateau de Mayenne, France.
What is your previous archaeological experience?
I have a Bachelor’s degree in Archaeological Sciance from Bradford. I have extensive field experience from a wide variety oj projects and have directed and managed research excavations and large scale rescue projects. I2ve worked for the OAU for 11 years in projects such as the London Transport Jubilee Underground Extension Project and the Channel Tunnel Rail Link. From 1996-1999, I worked in france on a high profile research project at the Chateau de Mayenne, which is a medieval castle with some sections that had been sealed off for almost 800 years. Before joining OAU, I worked for 3 years co-ordinating archaeological and rural development projects, such as the rehabilitation of Inca irrigation systems in Peru. In France and Peru I’ve worked directly with local governments and specialists concerning our projects.
How do the Roman sites in England compare with the Zeugma site?
It’s very difficult to compare. They are no sites in Britain that are as rich as Zeugma!
What about other team members at Zeugma?
We have 200 people from Turkey, England, France and Italy working at the site. These include excavation assistants, photographers, conservators, find specialists, and surveyors.
Whatis special or unique to yo about the Zeugma site?
The quality of the mosaics are astounding, surpassing the famous Tunisian mosaics. Also, because zeugma was a Roman border post on the Euphrates, customs taxes were collected there. We have found the largest collection of customs seals to date, about 70,000. It’s been very exciting to discover something surprising and beautiful almost every day.
(From GAP Review)
Beginning in 1967, archaeological work was carried out in the reservoir areas of the Keban, Karakaya and Atatürk Dams (whose construction on the Euphrates was planned within the scope of the Southeast Anatolia Project) , and discoveries important eough to change the history of civilization were made. In the basin forming the reservoir of the Birecik Dam (ünder construction since 1996) , it has proved imposible to carry out essential research and salvage work. This area has been left to the destcruction ot the dam’s waters without fully assessing or documanting pricelees historical and archaeological remains-such as those at Bılkis/Zeugma. In the same manner, the region’s flora and fauna have been destroyed without being documanted. Following the comletion of the Birecik and Kargamış Dams, the Euphrates-with its basin in which civilization was born- will no longer flow within Turkey’s borders.
We are not even in a position to fully know qhat we have destroyed with big investments like the Birecik Dam because no sound inventory of our country’s culturel and natural treasures has been conducted up to now (no organization has even been found to carry it out.) We are erasing from history an important segment of the cultural and natural heritage that we boast about at every opportunity. Do we really want to eliminate our cultural and natural heritage so easily? (Even the computers we use today ask us at the second or third step in our work whether or not we really want to eliminate what we are attempting to erase.) Possessing a rich cultural and natural heritage brings with it responsibility for recognizing, understanding and protecting it. The number of large infrastructure investments, and there should be a precondition for each project to document and record endangered cultural and natural heritage for future generations. This is an indisputable sign of a civilized nation.
During construction of the Birecik Dam, the most striking and painful examples of destruction included the Roman Legion camp, its bath and Early Bronze Age cemetery; the priceless mosaics and frescoes in the Roman villas at Belkıs/Zeugma; and all of the cultural and natural wealth at the ancient settlement of Apameia, ath the mounds of Tilbour, Tilbes, Tilmusa and Horum, at Kalemeydanı and Halfeti, and in the villages of Belkıs, Yeşiltepe, Fındıklı, aşağı Çardak, Erenköy, Gümüşgün, Kalemeydanı, Kasaba, Keskince, Bahçeönü, Durucak, Kavaklıca, Çekem, Savaşan, Akçağlayan and Gözeli.
Ir order to prevent similar destruction in the future, we must create a new development model that takes into account our country’s cultural imperatives. The agreements we have supported at the international level – in particular the Malta Agreement_ accept as a basic tenet that all tlpes of investment project involving land should be implemented without destroying cultural heritage.
Despita soma hopeful developments, it still cannot be said that all the pertinent organizations can work together with equal purpose in this matter. Laws and administrative procedures must be changed in accordance with newly developing trends in the world and the reorganization of bureaucratic sturctures. Better communication and coordination (especially in matters of preservation and documantion) with corporations involved in large investment projects is also essential. Morever, communitiy sensitivity must be developed and nongovernmental organizations created. In raising public awareness abuot Belkıs/Zeugma, the media activated the bureaucracy. Providing a forum for expressing different points is important for preserving our heritage.
Before surrendering to the dam’s encroaching waters, Belkıs/Zeugma served a historic function on by overcoming towards the destruction of our past. Now, if we question why excavations at Belkıs/Zeugma started so late, shouldn’t we also ask whether or not it isn’t too late to save Hasankeyf.?
(Nezih Başgelen / Archeology and Art Review Sept.-Oct. 2000)
A Race to Save Roman Splendors From Drowning
As waters rise inexorably over the ruins of an ancient Roman town here, an international team of archaeologists has sprung into action to save whatever can be rescued in the next three months.
Buoyed by a $5 million grant from an American foundation, the team hopes to dig up mosaics and artifacts, and to create a historical park and resort. A new lake is being formed as water from the Euphrates River backs up behind a new dam. Turkey is in the midst of a huge dam-building project that is to provide electric power for the country's booming economy and irrigation for parched farmland in southeastern provinces.
The ruins here are those of Zeugma, an important Roman garrison town on the ancient Silk Road. Trade made many of its merchants wealthy, and they decorated the floors of their villas with elaborate mosaics.
Experts say there may be hundreds of exquisite mosaics under the dusty hills, along with a rich trove of other artifacts.
Although archaeologists have been working here sporadically for more than 20 years, they began intensive work only recently after realizing that the inundation was imminent. It quickly became clear that Zeugma was a far more bountiful site than most specialists had realized, but by then it was too late to stop the flooding.
Belkis, the town that once stood below the Zeugma site, has already disappeared under the new lake. A new Belkis is being built on a nearby hillside, but many residents are embittered by what they say is the government's indifference to their plight.
News accounts of the flooding of Zeugma have appeared in many countries. Hardly a day goes by without a foreign journalist or television team appearing here. In Gaziantep, the nearest city, more than 1,000 tourists have arrived in the last few weeks, according to hotel managers, restaurateurs and taxi drivers. Before the wave of publicity, they said, it was a rare month when even a dozen tourists came.
Some Turkish archaeologists and government officials seem uncomfortable with the clamor from abroad, apparently viewing it as a form of interference that borders on insult. Directors of the Gaziantep archaeology museum, where artifacts dug up at Zeugma are piled high, scorned an American philanthropist, Shawn Estes, who appeared here two weeks ago and offered the museum a gift of $20,000. They also refused to allow him to work as a volunteer at the site, and when he addressed the local Rotary Club he was accused of harboring a secret plan to steal mosaics. ''I suggested that he ask permission from the Directorate of Museums in Ankara if he wanted to work or donate money,'' said Kemal Sertok, who is coordinating work at the site. ''In Turkey we only employ staff archaeologists.'' The authorities have, however, accepted a $5 million grant from a California-based foundation, the Packard Humanities Institute. Louise Schofield, who represents the foundation here, said it might donate more money in the future. ''Our work is going to be in three phases,'' she said. ''First is the rescue excavation of the area that will be covered by water after Oct. 4. Then there will be a very large conservation program in cooperation with the Turkish team. And then, in the long term, there is a plan to turn this site into a major archaeological park.'' With at least 10 more dams scheduled to be built in southeastern Turkey in the coming decades, conflict between advocates of economic development and historical preservation may grow.
The next focus of this conflict is likely to be Hasankeyf, a historical town 260 miles east of here that is to be inundated in a few years.
A British company has won the contract to build the dam at Hasankeyf, but opponents are waging a vocal campaign in Britain. When they invited the mayor of Hasankeyf to attend one of their protest rallies in London, the Turkish authorities advised him not to go, and he canceled his trip.
''We're hoping to defuse this sense of confrontation,'' said Richard Hodges, a British archaeologist who is helping to direct the Zeugma excavation. ''I'm interested in preserving culture, but I also like to drink water and use electricity. If we can make this project work, it can be a model for Turkey's future.''
But some Turkish preservationists reject the idea of such compromises. ''The appropriate lessons should be drawn from this and newly planned dam projects should be halted,'' said Asket Tibet, general secretary of the Archaeologists' Association.
That call was echoed by the general secretary of the History Association, Orhan Silier. ''The world's leading historians are trying to reinterpret history by using findings from these regions,'' Mr. Silier said. ''Yet we leave them under water.''
It is still unclear, and may be for years, how much of Zeugma is being lost. Some specialists believe it may be less than 10 percent. Others say there is no way of being sure, since an unknown portion of the city is already under water and no one is certain how much remains buried beneath the adjacent hills.
(By STEPHEN KINZER /July 3, 2000, Monday –New York Times
Before the Flood
Each day the dammed waters of the Euphrates River rise another three feet, encroaching on the present and the past in southeastern Turkey. While people in the modern village of Belkis abandon their homes, archaeologists are fighting a rear-guard action to save what they can from the ruins of Zeugma, once a thriving outpost on the eastern frontier of the Roman Empire. Theirs is a losing battle.
When Turkey began building a hydroelectric dam near Belkis in 1992, few were aware of any significant ruins that would be endangered. But villagers, digging up their valuable pistachio trees, kept turning up building stones. Archaeologists eventually arrived on the scene and began digging, uncovering two large hillside villas. Despite pleas from scholars for more time to rescue artifacts, Turkish officials have refused to hold back the flood; the country is in desperate need of electric power. In a few days, the main excavation site will be inundated. By September, some 15,000 acres of the ancient city will be submerged.
Hurried excavations at the site have yielded a trove of art and other artifacts from antiquity. Frescoes uncovered from the villas appear almost as fresh as when they were painted nearly 2,000 years ago. Beautiful mosaics depict a vanished culture's mythology. Many graceful stone columns stand in place, and around them are remains of walls and plumbing, iron window frames and lamps that illumined nights long ago.
Christine Kondoleon, a curator at the Worcester Art Museum in Massachusetts, has just returned from a month's study at Zeugma, impressed and dispirited. ''It isn't quite Antioch,'' she says, referring to one of the richest sites in that part of the Roman world. ''But the extent of preservation is really unusual.''
At its peak in the third century A. D., Zeugma prospered from caravan trade at the river crossing. Among its 70,000 residents were wealthy merchants and commanders of a Roman legion garrisoned there. They lived in imposing houses in the hills and imported artisans, probably from Antioch, to decorate them in a style befitting their lofty station. Before the century ended, Persians sacked Zeugma, leaving the ruins to be buried by time's accumulation of dirt. Only a few lines in contemporary records bore any written trace of the city's existence. But thick layers of clay sealed off the buried site from damaging moisture, accounting for the pristine state of much of the art.
How much of Zeugma's exquisitely preserved past will be lost in the deluge is unclear. Because the city was built on a steep hillside, scholars think half of the city's still-buried ruins will remain above water. But of necessity, excavations have been quick and dirty, focused on the recovery of works of art and other remains of the wealthy.
''What is lost is an understanding of the more humdrum aspects of a society -- where people of all strata lived and worked,'' says Stephen L. Dyson, a classics professor at suny Buffalo. ''The best archaeology is a discipline of social-economic history, not just art history.''
(By John Noble Wilford June 4, 2000, Sunday / New York Times
Antique zeugma city, which was one of the four largest cities of Kommagene kingdom formed in the 1. Century B.C. is silenty a waiting its pathetic and today in Gaziantep. İn Belkis village only 10 km to the east of the town called Nizip. Its indicated that suitable to be meaning of the word Zeugma, which means “bridge” “connection” , “passageway” the Great Iskender had crossed Euphrates at this point during the Persion Expetion. Believing that the his torical facts about Zeugma had been well reported by press. I want to come to the lesson we should learn from all this. Catherine Abadie Reynel the leader archologist of the French team working in zeugma for the past 5 years reffects her opinion in the following phrases.
My Main distress is to see that is too late for a lot of things. Everyone knew five years ago that this day would come. What we did was emergency digs. But there is no emergency dig tridition here. Its quide obvious that things would not be run like this in France. When the Dam project was bing planned the archaological and ecological risk factors have not been taken into consideration. But an american in early 90 has come determined places of all antique sites which would go under dam waters. All this is a mother of organization.
Are we really not organized Im not so sure about that because then who decided to bury Hasankeyf the pricelelesscapital of Atukoğlu state between the years 1101-1232 or who takes these out worn police measures to deter people fromcollecting historical objects to protect our cultural haritage and put them in to an ineffective position.
If there is an organization, and if the outhorized people there come out with decisions like the two I have mentioned above then both the arganization and the way these people think should be Questionned?
I’m only hoping that your commorsense will prevent you from saying “ what can I do Zeugma and Hasankeyf share the same destiny”
And go on “There are so many of these all around Turkey so it is not so important”
I do not want to say anything to those who think this way but you cannot just take it for granted. Zeugma is important bescause it is the result of the mantality I have been trying to reflect. It’s important a lesson at Hasankeyf.
Please let’s learn a lesson from the “Zeugma” fact out let’s not let these national and olso universal historical valuesvanish in the hand of outhorities.
Archeology and Art Magazin Sept/Oct 2000 M.Iskender TARGAC (Member Of Cultural Wealth Collectioners Development Association)
Zeugma Nears Extinction
Had Alexander the Great, while on his way to the Persian campaign with his army, not crossed the Euphrates at Zeugma, and had contemporary engineers not decided to build a dam at that very point, we would not be facing this problem today. Either there would be no Zeugma, or it would not be in danger of imminent inundation.
Zeugma was founded by Seleucus I Nicator, who was one of Alexander's generals, in ca. 300 B.C. after Alexander's death. Here the Euphrates narrows at a crucial point on its journey from Anatolia (now modern Turkey) to Mesopotamia. Zeugma meant bridge, connection or crossroads in ancient Greek. It could be rendered as Bridgetown or Bridgeville and was first known as Seleuceai on the Euphrates. Trade between the fertile "golden crest" of Mesopotamia and Anatolia, and later, for centuries, that of the "Silk Road" established between China and the West went over the Euphrates at this point. Although a major part of this road is now under water, remains of it still could be seen in places.
The Roman Empire posted eight legions to Anatolia, both to oversee the trade route and to protect the eastern borders of the Empire. "The Scythian Legion" later known as the "Fourth Legion," was a 5,000-strong army unit based in Zeugma and entrusted with deterring incursions by the Parthians from Persia. So these soldiers afforded protection to the bridge, which was built of wood on stone supports, as well as to the town that bore its name.
The yearly budget for the expenditure of a unit of troops was 1.5 million silver Denarius. With this contribution to the local economy, the population of the city rose to 70,000. As the inhabitants grew wealthier, they began to decorate the floors and walls of their single- and double-story villas along the riverbank with mosaics and frescoes. In the second century A.D., the appreciation of fine art brought by prosperity attracted artists from all corners of the Roman Empire. Zeugma, built overlooking the river on quite a steep hillside, grew to a size three and a half times that of Pompeii and twice that of Roman London. The riverside wharf enabled trade to be conducted along the river.
The splendor of Zeugma fell into decline in the middle of the third century with the decline of the Roman Empire. Traces of the fire and destruction suffered by the city during attacks by the Parthians from Persia in 256 can still be seen today and this damage, coupled with severe earthquakes, completed the city's total fall. Even though inhabited in subsequent centuries by the Byzantines, Arabs and Turks, the city never fully recovered.
In the 19th century, with the exhibition of mosaics plundered from here in the museums of St. Petersburg, Berlin and London, the historical and cultural heritage of Zeugma re-emerged. In the early 1970s, other mosaics started appearing in the art markets of New York. Villagers had removed them using tunnels dug into the rubble, which in places reached a height of four meters.
A mosaic of geometric design is in the museum of North Carolina. Another one, depicting Centaur together with Deianira, the wife of Hercules, is in a Madison Avenue gallery in New York, while other mosaics have been put up for sale at various auctions.
Having been alerted on several occasions, the regional museum authorities at Gaziantep began rescue excavations. In 1992, the museum director, Rifat Ergeç, discovered a mosaic depicting the wedding of Dionysos and Ariadne along with two large geometric ones. The mosaics were to be preserved in situ with the restoration of the villa. However, two-thirds of the Dionysos mosaic was stolen in 1998. Interpol is now investigating its whereabouts. Tesserae were used In this mosaic, which was made around the end of the second or beginning of the third century. The artist used the smallest pieces for the faces, and thus created the impression in the work of a picture rather than a mosaic.
David Kennedy, a professor of archaeology at the University of Western Australia, worked at Zeugma in the summer of 1993. He found in a villa mosaics depicting the eternal lovers, Parthenope and Metiokhos. However, smugglers cut out the couple's portraits. The mosaics later turned up in the Menil Collection in Houston, Tex. The museum returned them to Turkey on June 20, 2000. Staff at the Gaziantep Museum are now trying to put the pieces together.
The State Water Department of Turkey decided to construct a series of dams along the Euphrates and Tigris rivers to foster development of the impoverished Southeast Anatolia region and also find a solution to the energy crisis. Then in 1986, the construction of the Birecik Dam, one mile from Zeugma, was proposed. In 1990, a feasibility report was submitted to the Turkish authorities and international construction companies.
As many as 45 places of historical importance, which would be submerged under dam water, among them Zeugma, was brought to the world's attention by Dr Guillermo Algaze from Chicago University, who conducted a survey of the region in 1998. However, no foreign institution or university showed any interest.
In 1994, the Gaziantep Museum gave notice to the world and the international archaeological community that work on the dam would start in 1996. The "Save Zeugma" campaign got off the ground. The museum, using the limited resources supplied by the Turkish Ministry of Culture, started sporadic rescue excavations. These were not part of a concentrated, systematic or scientific excavation program.
In 1995, the French Foreign Ministry provided funds for Professor Catherina Abadie-Reynal from Nantes University to assist with the rescue efforts.
Traces of mosaics were found a mile from Zeugma in 1996 when bulldozers started work on the construction of the dam. Archaeologists from the museum uncovered Roman baths together with the mosaics. Construction work was postponed for the duration of the excavations. When recoverable artifacts had been taken to the museum, work restarted on the main body of dam, rising over the Fourth Legion's baths.
When Director Ergeç and his assistant Mehmet Önal started work on the riverside (A) area, destined to be underwater, they found three villas. These two-stores villas overlooked the river. Not only were they built onto soft rock, but this rock was also carved out to form cave rooms which kept cool in summer and warm in winter. The floors of the cave rooms were covered with mosaics and the walls with frescoes. No place in the villas was without a mosaic or fresco. One of them depicts Poseidon along with Oceanos and his wife Thetis and sea creatures. On another, Achilles, one of the heroes of Troy is depicted departing for war. There was a fountain in the middle of this mosaic, which decorated the bottom of a pool. The dining room of another villa is decorated with a figure of Dionysos in a carriage drawn by leopards. At his side is the little goddess of victory, Nike, and the dancer Bacchae. There are other mosaics depicting mythological subjects such as the birth of Venus in a seashell, Eros and Psyche, the river god Achaelous, Medusa, Andromeda and Acrotos. The Venus mosaic was recovered at the last moment as result of an extraordinary all-night-long effort.
Professor Abadie discovered a mosaic of the Cretan architect Daedalus and his son Icarus in the same villa. The beauty and original composition of this piece has been called "the mosaic find of the century."
Önal, who has supervised excavations even in falling snow, said that from September 1999 to the present time, approximately 60 artifacts and 550 square meters of mosaic have been rescued. One of the mosaics found by Önal has been called "the Zeugma Mona Lisa" or, alternately, "Alexander the Great" -- in any case, the person in the mosaic stares back at the view with a look what is a mixture of fury and astonishment. The fury must be due to the theft of the rest of the mosaic of which she was once a part of. The smugglers overlooked this portrait. As many as 50 frescoes, 1,500 square feet in all, were rescued from these three villas.
Önal discovered a 1.55-meter-tall bronze statue of Mars in one of the villas. From the same villa, 3,750 Greek and Roman silver and bronze coins were uncovered. Abadie rescued a hoard of 116 coins the day before flooding commenced. Ergeç-Önal found approximately 65,000 Roman sealed clays in a previous excavation. This was a world record (the previous record find was on the island of Crete in Greece). The Zeugma seals made up the state archives.
These clay seals are like the negatives of black and white photographs. On the stones of rings were gods and goddesses, emperors and empresses, portraits of kings, stories from mythology and pictures of animals and plants. When pressed onto clay, they produce a positive image. On the front face of the seals were the prints from the stones, while on the other side were traces of fabric, papyrus and parchment. There were small holes in them through which string could be passed (as with beads). With these were tied cargo and letters coming from all parts of the Roman world. These seals might shed light on the trade and communication network of those centuries.
While this work was proceeding, the basin of the dam started filling up, and water began to rise in all Zeugma's dried up wells. The rising water first wiped Belkis, a village lying between the dam and Zeugma, off the map. Next, as the river behind the dam turned into a lake, it started lapping at the waterside residences of the one time Roman elite and all the art works they contained. On June 20, river water from the Euphrates appeared on the floors of the three villas in Zeugma from which mosaics and frescos had been removed. Just the previous night, mosaic experts and skilled workmen had worked until the break of day and managed to rescue the last mosaic from a cave. The mosaic depicted the birth of Venus in a seashell and two sea creatures carrying her. While a large part of the mosaics and frescoes in the riverside residences of Zeugma have now been rescued, some remain under water. An estimated eight per cent of Zeugma is now covered with water.
The water is expected to rise again by a further 36 feet on Oct. 3. Archaeologists refer to the area to be affected as zone (B). At this point the Packard Institute of Humanities in California has given a $5-million grant to the Turkish government for a rapid excavation of the area within this zone.
In comparison to the earlier excavations, those in zone (B) are proceeding more meticulously, but again with the utmost possible haste, given the circumstances. Turkish archaeologist Kemal Sertok, in charge of coordinating the excavations, said, "The aim of works at this stage is to document the social and economic life of the town." Sertok added, "Due to lack of time, we're once again undertaking a very fast rescue effort not really in accordance with the concepts of classical archaeology."
The area of zone (B), whose topography was once valleys but after flooding could better be described as a series of small bays, has been surrounded by nearly a mile of barbed wire. With the funds provided, a British-Australian group of archeologists (which includes German and New Zealand experts) has started work at six different sites. Some 40 archaeologists and experts, together with 130 workmen, are presently concentrating on the rescue efforts. In the coming weeks the number of sites will increase to ten.
At the site of the Turkish excavations, the government archeological team is investigating possible connections of the now submerged villas with the upper terraces. First of all, they uncovered early Byzantine walls and ceramic pieces. Going further down, they discovered some traces that would indicate the Roman connection, among them a marble statuette of a goat from the Roman period. They also unearthed a Greek burial place under the Roman level.
In one of the four exploratory digs by the British-Australian group, they found evidence of a Roman villa. However, only after removing some ten feet of rubble will they be expected to reach the site. In this villa, they found a helmet, spearheads and an armored piece protecting the soldier's knee. Archaeologists think this villa might have belonged to a Roman commander.
The water will stop rising after Oct. 3, at which point archaeologists will carry out more systematic and scientific excavations and so transform Zeugma into an open-air museum. Meanwhile, plans call for the cultural center being constructed next to the small museum in Gaziantep to be expanded and enlarged. Gaziantep would thus be able to host the third largest mosaic museum in the world after Carthage in Tunisia and Antioch in Turkey.
The water to put out the fires lit by the Parthians in Zeugma has finally arrived, albeit delayed by some 1750 years. It has, however, brought a further disaster in its wake.
(By Ozgen ACAR - Turkish journalist

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