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Old tradition revisited in reconstructed Assyrian mosaic.

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One of the more exciting elements of this year’s work is our collaboration with the regional Diyarbakır Archaeology Museum. There has been an archaeological museum in Diyarbakır since 1934 and the current building has been in use since 1985. The 1980’s building is now sadly in need of repairs and plans for opening a new cultural center, including a museum, in the old citadel (Iç kale) in Diyarbakır have been in the works for years and are nearing completion, so soon there will be a new home for all of the Ziyaret Tepe artifacts.

The new museum is in a spectacular old stone building on a high cliff overlooking the Tigris River at the edge of the city. The building has been restored as part of a complete refurbishment of the Iç kale. I’ll tell you more about that later.

Over the winter, Aytaç Coşkun, a craftsman working for the museum undertook a project to reconstruct a small portion of one of the large mosaic courtyards from the Assyrian public buildings excavated in the lower town. Here are some photographs of Courtyard 20 during excavation, a plan showing the location of three courtyards (2, 11, 20 on the plan), and a detailed photograph I sent to Mr. Coşkun, amongst other documentation.

OpGR Master Plan 20Aug2012 [Converted]

The original mosaics were made with stones selected from the Tigris River and for his reconstruction, Mr. Coşkun also hand-selected hundreds of river stones of various sizes sorted into black and white groups to imitate the original materials. These stones were placed in a cement mortar (the Assyrians used a mud mortar) in the entrance to one of the two galleries dedicated to Ziyaret Tepe in the new museum. You can see his team at work below.

At work on mosaic

Mr. Coşkun used a movable frame for constructing each square of the mosaic. He started by lining the edges with flat cobbles laid on edge, as seen in the original Assyrian design. Next, he selected appropriately sized and shaped colored stones to fill in the interior spaces, moving on to the next part of the frame when the mortar had set. Unlike the cut stone tesserae that were used by later Roman craftsmen, Assyrian mosaics employed natural stone shapes.

Finished mosaic

The result is quite impressive and will give museum visitors a real sense of what the mosaics would have looked like in ancient times. The Assyrian originals were over 10m (30 feet) on a side, so this is just a sampling. (The wire sticking out is for lighting a small pedestal that will sit on the center of the mosaic.) Well done, Mr. Coşkun!

By matney

Dr. Matney is Professor of Archaeology in the Department of Anthropology and Classical Studies at the University of Akron. He is the Director of the Ziyaret Tepe Archaeological Expedition.

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