Archaeology: Before the Flood ; with the Rising Waters of the Euphrates about to Cover the Site for Ever, Archaeologists in Turkey Uncovered a Treasure Trove of Ancient Mosaics. Jonathan Dyson Reports on What Happened Next. Photographs by Stephane Compoint
Jonathan Dyson & Stephane Compoint, The Independent (London, England)
"Oh, superbe, superbe ... Est en grec ... Icarus ... Pasiphae ...Daedalus ... Aaah, c'est fantastique!" For those whose faith in television has faltered, it will surely be restored by the sight of an unassuming middle-aged archaeologist called Catherine Abadie- Reynal being filmed at the actual moment she brushes the dust from one of the greatest ancient mosaics ever found. The discovery of this and, subsequently, many more exquisite mythological tableaux in the same ruined villa led to an outcry in summer 1999 because the site in eastern Turkey was about to be lost for ever under the rising waters of a huge new dam.
"It's an absolute tragedy," says Becky Jones, English co- producer of The Secret Treasures of Zeugma. "This was the fifth and final mission of the French-Turkish team and they'd been given a permit to dig for six weeks. Then, five days before the end, they discovered the first mosaic." The villa is in what was once a fabulously wealthy Greek and then Roman outpost of empire. It was known as Zeugma, the Greek word for bridge, so called because this was the only crossing of the Euphrates, a vital staging post on the silk route between Europe and the East. "Until recently, it wasn't known exactly where Zeugma was," says Jones. "Then a German archaeologist proved this was the site in the Seventies. There were two small excavations, and then the French picked up the baton."
At the height of its power, Zeugma had a garrison of 6,000 soldiers, and undoubtedly other villas were just as lavishly ornamented as the one uncovered by Catherine, her colleagues from the Centre Nationale de la Recherche Scientifique, and local experts. But despite getting several extensions on their permit, the waters continued to rise, and the archaeological team finally resorted to using industrial diggers in a desperate bid to unearth as much as possible. Those mosaics which were uncovered were painstakingly removed to the local museum in Gaziantep. …