The Cultural Afterlife of Mosaics in Turkey

By: Laurent Dissard, University of Pennsylvania

Sensational discoveries of mosaics periodically make the headlines of newspapers in Turkey. After being discovered, unearthed, cleaned, and removed, these ancient floors slowly make their way to museums or private collections. For this month’s ASOR Blog on the Archaeology of Anatolia, I wish to examine the curious afterlife of mosaics in, out of, and more recently, back to Turkey. I want to analyze their transformation from buried and forgotten things in the ground, to sanitized artifacts, aesthetic masterpieces, and contested objects of desire.

Unearthed in the late 1990s at Zeugma in Southeastern Turkey during rescue excavations before the construction of the Birecik Dam, the 2nd century AD mosaic below is now displayed in the newly built Mosaic Museum of Gaziantep. It shows Achilles on the island of Skyros leaving for the Trojan War. Thetis, Achilles’ mother, knowing that her son would die by joining the Greek army, dresses him as a girl and sends him to live with a king and his beautiful daughters on the island of Skyros, far away from the war.

Odysseus (R) takes Achilles (C) away from Deidameia (L)

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Contested Heritage and the New Museum(s) in Diyarbakır

By: Laurent Dissard

The southeastern provinces of Turkey will soon be home to a series of new, state-of-the-art, archaeology museums. Such buildings are being (or have already been) planned, constructed, remodeled, or expanded. The Gaziantep Museum, for instance, houses many of the Roman mosaics of Zeugma unearthed before the construction of the Birecik Dam. Other mosaics, discovered during the expansion of Şanlıurfa’s sewage system, will be displayed in an Arkeopark near the city center.

Diyarbakır, a third city in southeastern Turkey, is not lagging behind. Work is underway to transform its citadel (içkale) into an archaeology museum. Recent finds at sites threatened by the Ilısu Dam will make up a large part of its collection. Hence, the displaced antiquities will slowly find their ways to a new home. A win-win situation for Turkey, it would seem. As the country develops its infrastructure, investing in dams, roads, and sewage systems, it is simultaneously seen as protecting its past. A paradox, nevertheless, since it is these attempts to modernize that are threatening the country’s cultural heritage in the first place.

A view of Diyarbakır’s içkale

A view from Diyarbakır’s içkale

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Ossified Territory and Theaters of the Absurd: Personal Reflections on Taking Students beyond the River

By:  Elena D. Corbett, Penn State Erie, The Behrend College
The views expressed here are those of the author. Please see the full disclaimer at the end of this essay.

Mural on the Cardo, Jerusalem.

Quite by accident at what is still a fairly early point in my career, I have been at the helm of several study abroad opportunities for American students in Jordan.  Within recent days I returned to Amman from Jerusalem having accomplished a personal first:  as part of an institutional collaboration, a colleague and I had led a group of students forth and back across the river.  What follows is my attempt to grapple with a truly inarticulate mess of thought and feeling about the experience.

I don’t get to Jerusalem as often as I should.  The reasons are many, but revolve mainly around an overwhelming sense of absurdity that grows more cynical as years pass.  Continue reading

The Public Impact

At the Secondary Context I workshop,  Dr. Giorgio Buccellati spoke movingly of his commitment to the people who live in Mozan ( the village for which the tell that covers ancient Urkesh is named). He and his colleagues have collaborated with those who live in Mozan and work the land nearby to create an innovative program that involves both populace and excavators. Small wonder that the site survives intact, a monument to culture, to a people, and to a tradition that endures.
-Rick HAUSER, Research Associate
IIMAS The International Institute for Mesopotamian Area Studies

The Public Impact
Giorgio Buccellati
Mozan/Urkesh Archaeological Project (Tell Mozan, Syria)
March—June 2011

Times of turmoil encourage an intense reflection on the ultimate validity of our field work in foreign lands. Identified as we become with the people, committed as we are to recover their territorial past, engaged as we still remain in the more esoteric dimensions of our research — the question of relevance emerges with urgency. Continue reading

On ‘Absalom’s Tomb’ in Jerusalem and Nephesh Monument Iconography: A Response to Jacobovici and Tabor by Robert Cargill

Robert R. Cargill (
Assistant Professor of Classics and Religious Studies, The University of Iowa

Images of the 'Tomb of Absalom' (1 C. CE Jerusalem) flank an image carved into a burial ossuary.

Images of the 'Tomb of Absalom' (1 C. CE Jerusalem) flank an image carved into an ossuary. Photo credits: Left: Brian796 ( Center: MSNBC Cosmic Log ( Right: Ariel Horowitz on Wikipedia (

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Jodi Magness responds to the “New Jesus Discovery”

Professor Jodi Magness
Department of Religious Studies, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

As usual, the arrival of the Easter season this year is heralded by a sensational archaeological claim relating to Jesus. In March 2007, we learned from a TV documentary and accompanying book that the tomb of Jesus and his family had been discovered in Jerusalem’s Talpiyot neighborhood. The producer was undeterred by the fact that not a single archaeologist – including the tomb’s excavator – supported this claim (for my comments see; also see Eric Meyers’ response to the current claim). Now the same producer has identified remains of early Christian followers of Jesus in a tomb nearby. What is the basis for this new claim? Photos taken by a robotic arm that was inserted into the tomb supposedly show a graffito depicting a whale incised on an ossuary, and an inscription containing the Tetragrammaton and the word “arise” or “resurrection.”

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Archaeology, Bible, Politics and the Media: Duke “Office Hours” with Professors Carol and Eric Meyers

Drawing on their decades of experience on archaeological digs in Israel, Duke University Professors Carol and Eric Meyers take questions from online viewers about the charged combination of archaeology, the Bible, politics and the news media, during an “Office Hours” conversation September 1, 2011. Learn more at

Archaeology in the News

Here are some links to recent news from the world of Archaeology!

  • It looks like the artifacts in the Cairo museum are now being protected, but not all of them.
  •  Here is an interesting YouTube video of the looting at the Cairo museum.  
  • Other sites around Egypt need protecting as well.
  • The preservation of Babylon made the New York Times.
  • A pilgrim road has been uncovered in Israel.  Super Bowl feasts may have their origin in preagricultural peoples.
  • A sealed jar has been discovered at Qumran.
  • Berlin’s Pergamon museum has restored Tell Halaf Artifacts devastated during World War Two.
  • Recently discovered artifacts suggest and earlier human exit from Africa than previously thought.
  • A Roman Legion lost in China?
  • Lots left to discover at Göbekli Tepe.
  • Subterranean chamber discovered in Syria.
  • Don’t forget to check out ASOR’s most recent digital content on the Dig-it-al website!

If you find something interesting on the internet that you would like to share, please email the link to

ASOR joins LCCHP and Other Organizations in Warning of Emergency in Egypt

The undersigned cultural heritage and archaeological organizations express their concern over the loss of life and injury to humans during the protests in Egypt this week. We support the desire of the Egyptian people to exercise their basic civil rights. We also share their concern about the losses to cultural heritage that Egypt has already sustained and the threat of further such losses over the coming days.

Brave actions taken by the citizens of Cairo and the military largely protected the Cairo Museum. However, the numerous sites, museums and storage areas located outside of Cairo are even more vulnerable. As the prisons are opened and common criminals are allowed to escape, the potential for greater loss is created. A recent report from Egyptologist Professor Sarah Parcak of the University of Alabama in Birmingham states that damage has been done to storage areas and tombs in Abusir and Saqqara and that looting is occurring there and in other locations.

We call on the Egyptian authorities to exercise their responsibilities to protect their country’s irreplaceable cultural heritage. At the same time, we call on United States and European law enforcement agencies to be on the alert over the next several months for the possible appearance of looted Egyptian antiquities at their borders.

  • American Schools of Oriental Research
  • Archaeological Institute of America
  • Cultural Heritage Center, The University of Pennsylvania
  • Cultural Heritage and Preservation Studies, Rutgers University
  • Lawyers’ Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation
  • U.S. Committee of the Blue Shield

For a link to ASOR’s Policy on the Preservation and Protection of Cultural Property, click here.

Audio of Duke Conference on Archaeology, Politics, and the Media

The following post contains mp3 files of papers presented at Duke University on April 23th and 24th, 2009. Thanks to the conference organizers, sponsors, and presenters for permission to post the audio.

For notes on the papers and the conference, see Robert Cargill’s blog (day 1 & day 2). Also note that some of these papers are available from Duke’s itunes.

Eric Meyers, Introduction
Michael Schoenfeld, Welcome
Byron McCane, Scholars Behaving Badly: Sensationalism and Archaeology in the Media
Milton Moreland, Forged by a Genius: Scholarly Responses to History Channel Meets CSI
Christopher Rollston, An Ancient Medium in the Modern Media: Stages of Semitic Inscriptions
Jonathan Reed, The Lure of Proof and the Legacy of Biblical Archaeology: Scholars and the Media
Question and Answer Period
Eric Cline, Fabulous Finds and Fantastic Forgeries: The Distortion of Archaeology by the Media Pseudoarchaeology
Joe Zias, Response
Morag Kersel, The Power of the Press Release and Popular Magazines on the Antiquities Trade
Annabel Wharton, Response

Chad Spigel, Response
Mark Goodacre, The Talpiot Tomb and the Bloggers
A.K.M. Adam, Response
Patty Gerstenblith, Legal and Ethical Aspects of Cultural Heritage

Nina Burleigh, Inside the Collector’s Lair and Other Tales from the Biblical Antiquities Trade in Israel and the USA
Mark Pinsky, The Holy Land Experience
Tony Cartledge, Walk about Jerusalem: Protestant Pilgrims in the Holy Land

Bert de Vries, Umm el-Jimal
S. Thomas Parker, Response
Eric Meyers, The Quest for the Temple Mount: The Settler Movement and National Parks in Israel
Rebecca Stein, Response
Ethan Bronner, Archaeology, Politics and the Media: A View from Jerusalem
Ray Bruce, Observations
Moira Bucciarelli, Observations
Eric Powell, Observations
Andy Vaughn, Summary of the Conference

WAC Ramallah Conference

Posted by Morag Kersel on behalf of the World Archaeological Conference

True to its foundational principles, the World Archaeological Congress will hold its first “Middle East” meeting to focus on the powerful relationship between archaeology, heritage and politics. The archaeology of the West Bank and its surrounding region is enormously significant as the location where the three monotheistic faiths, Judaism, Christianity and Islam — all trace their origins. Yet the archaeological and cultural heritage of this region suffers constant and extensive damage from political and ideological struggles to control the region.

Today as Palestine moves closer to official statehood, WAC decries the often destructive politics that define Israeli-Palestinian relationships. WAC notes the on-going damage to the archaeological record but also the potential of a shared cultural heritage to build towards peace. WAC calls for participation in this strategic InterCongress to demonstrate how archaeology can serve political ends for the greater good.

The focus of this InterCongress is on structural violence: the insidious structures and the stark inequalities that perpetuate conflicts. Structural violence is built into western countries’ relations with much of the rest of the world, preventing most non-western countries from becoming economically and culturally ‘equal’ to the West. Often structural violence is hidden and works without overt physical infringement, making it all the more effective.

As anthropologists, archaeologists, cultural heritage professionals, and concerned local community members, WAC asks what role archaeological and cultural heritage research has in overcoming these ‘in-built’ obstacles? Must we engage against structural violence outside of archaeological practice, or can archaeological practice confront and impact the ravages of structural violence?

Sessions and panels will be held on August 9th and 10th. August 11th and 12th are reserved for workshops, “hands on” experiences and tours of the region by regional cultural heritage non-government organizations. Closing sessions and consideration of InterCongress resolutions will take place on August 13th.

Participants are encouraged to propose creative formats to facilitate critical consideration and discussion of the topics at hand. Proposals for sessions of various forms: read papers, panels, poster sessions, roundtable discussions, or other formats, should be sent to the Program Committee ( by the deadlines indicated below. Sessions may be proposed by individuals or by groups. All sessions, regardless of format, will be provided a 2-hour block of time to meet. Session abstracts of 400 words should include the contact information for the organizer(s). Paper abstracts of 200 words may be sent to either the session organizers or to the Program Committee (

A Selection of Sessions:

- Marginalia and Structural Violence in Past Societies
- Looting, Landscape and Law
- Structures of Dominance in the Levantine Late Iron Age
- The Bones of Our Ancestors: The Treatment of Human Remains as a Mechanism for Tolerance or for Intolerance
- Beyond Causality: Tensions of Time and the Relationships between Instances of Violence and Institutionalized Violence
- The Future of Palestinian Cultural Heritage

Sessions & Panels - Friday, May 15th 2009
Papers - Friday, June 12th 2009

Early Bird registration deadline: May 30, 2009

For further information see: