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Peter Jülich | University of Münster
Peter Jülich | University of Münster

Archaeologists Unearth Roman Syrian Mosaic in Turkey

Peter Jülich | University of Münster
Peter Jülich | University of Münster

The devastating civil war in Syria has made archaeological expeditions in that country impossible, which is especially problematic considering the wholescale looting and destruction of ancient sites like Palmyra by ISIL and other groups. But across the border in Turkey, in a region where tens of thousands of Syrians are living in refugee camps, German archaeologists have unearthed a stunning mosaic at the site of a former Roman-Syrian city that was built thousands of years before today's geopolitical borders were put into place.

The ancient city of Doliche—modern Dülük—is located on the outskirts of what is today Gaziantep, about 50 miles north of the Syrian-Turkish border. It was once part of the Roman province of Syria. Archaeologists from the University of Münster discovered the mosaic just this year, in their first year of excavation at the site. The mosaic was unearthed in a building complex with a center courtyard enclosed by columns that originally covered more than 100 square meters.

“Because of its size and the strict, well-composed sequence of delicate geometric patterns, the mosaic is one of the most beautiful examples of late antique mosaic art in the region,” University of Münster archaeologist Michael Blömer said in a press statement. They suspect the complex was once a wealthy villa.

As the excavation expands next year to public areas of the ancient town, “we hope to obtain a reliable picture of a northern Syrian city from the Hellenistic era to the age of the Crusaders," Blömer said.

Nearby, their colleagues have made new finds at a related site they've excavated for the past 15 years: the sanctuary of Jupiter Dolichenus, a Roman mystery cult god. Later, the Christian abbey St. Solomon was constructed on the site. The team has found architectural remnants and artifacts from both eras—and even earlier.

Some artifacts date as far back as the 9th century BCE, making the sanctuary much older than they originally estimated. The discovery this year of a lovely, high-quality bronze stag dating to the early 1st millennium BCE further confirms this more ancient occupation.

While Doliche was a minor city, it's become quite valuable to archaeologists in recent years, since it's one of the few Roman-Syrian sites that isn't being actively looted or destroyed—or that hasn't become simply too dangerous to be near. Important ancient cities like Apamea, home to more than 115,000 people during the 1st century CE and recently devastated by looters, are now completely off-limits, being within Syria's borders. “The situation today at the site of Apamea, one of the most important ancient cities of Syria, is particularly bad,” the University of Münster's Englebert Winter said. “Illicit excavations, clearly visible in satellite imagery, have destroyed the entire urban area. It remains doubtful if research there will ever be possible again."

All photos: Peter Jülich || University of Münster

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Peter Pfälzner, University of Tübingen
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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
Archaeologists Finally Identify a 4000-Year-Old Lost City in Iraq
Peter Pfälzner, University of Tübingen
Peter Pfälzner, University of Tübingen

In 2016, archaeologists excavating in the Autonomous Region of Kurdistan in Iraq discovered the remnants of a Bronze Age city near the modern village of Bassetki. It was large, and it appeared to have been occupied for more than 1000 years, from around 2200 to 1200 BCE. Ancient Mesopotamia, home to the earliest civilizations on Earth, had many cities. So which one was it?

The mystery remained until recently, when a language expert at the University of Heidelberg translated clay cuneiform tablets unearthed at the site in 2017. The archaeologists had discovered Mardaman, a once-important city mentioned in ancient texts, which had been thought lost to time.

The inscriptions were likely written around 1250 BCE when Mardaman (also called Mardama) was a part of the Assyrian Empire. According to the University of Tübingen archaeologists who unearthed the tablets, they describe the "administrative and commercial affairs" between the citizens of Mardaman and their Assyrian governor Assur-nasir. The account led the researchers to believe that the area where the tablets were recovered was once the governor's palace.

Excavation site in Iraq.
Peter Pfälzner, University of Tübingen

Situated on trade routes connecting Mesopotamia, Anatolia (modern Turkey), and Syria, Mardaman was a bustling commercial hub in its day. It was conquered and rebuilt several times, but after it was toppled by the Turukkaeans from the neighboring Zagros Mountains sometime in the 18th century BCE, it was never mentioned again in ancient texts. Experts had assumed that marked the end of Marmadan. This latest discovery shows that the city recovered from that dark period, and still existed 500 years later.

"The cuneiform texts and our findings from the excavations in Bassetki now make it clear that that was not the end," lead archeologist Peter Pfälzner said in a press statement. "The city existed continuously and achieved a final significance as a Middle Assyrian governor's seat between 1250 and 1200 BCE."

This lost chapter of history may never have been uncovered if the clay tablets were stored any other way. Archeologists found the 92 slabs in a pottery vessel that had been sealed with a thick layer of clay, perhaps to preserve the contents for future generations. The state in which they were found suggests they were stashed away shortly after the surrounding building was destroyed.

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Ben Curtis, AFP/Getty Images
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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
King Tut's Tomb Doesn't Contain Hidden Rooms After All
Ben Curtis, AFP/Getty Images
Ben Curtis, AFP/Getty Images

When Howard Carter first entered King Tut's tomb in 1922, there was a lot to uncover. Unlike most royal tombs of the ancient Egyptian kings, Tut's had remained sealed and untouched for centuries, providing a pristine treasure trove for those who would eventually stumble upon it. Now, nearly a century later, archaeologists are accepting the idea that King Tut's tomb may have no more secrets left to reveal: New radar scans show that there are no hidden rooms beyond the main burial chamber, NBC News reports.

The theory that Tut's tomb contains secret rooms first emerged in 2015. British archaeologist Nicholas Reeves claimed that high-definition laser scans conducted by Japanese and American scientists hinted at the existence of a second tomb on the other side of the chamber's walls, and that the hidden tomb possibly belonged to Queen Nefertiti, Tutankhamun's stepmother. The theory sparked excitement in Egyptology circles, but its popularity was short-lived. Radar experts cast doubts on the research saying that what appeared to be a wall or a room could easily be a geologic feature. Archaeologists and Egyptologists began calling for more evidence.

The newest study on the matter will likely debunk the hidden tomb theory for good. According to findings by Italian researchers presented at the fourth International Tutankhamun Conference in Cairo, ground-penetrating radar shows conclusively that there are no hidden rooms or corridors adjacent to Tut's tomb. The new scan represents the most comprehensive radar survey of the area ever conducted.

Even without hidden rooms, Tut's tomb and the artifacts it contained make up one of the world's most impressive archaeological sites. The public will be able to view 4500 of the young ruler's possessions when they go on display at a new museum in Cairo in 2022.

[h/t NBC News]

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