ZEUGMA ARCHAEOLOGICAL PROJECT 2000 Trench 13 – A Short Presentation An account of the discovery and excavation of a wealthy residence at the edge of the Roman city.
The Birecik dam after construction, as the reservoir is gradually filled..
WIDE AREA SURVEY, JUNE – JULY 2000 When the Zeugma 2000 teams arrived, the immense task that lay before them soon became apparent. In order to understand the nature, the topography, and the remarkable wealth and variety of archaeological remains throughout the landscape, a full site walkover was initiated immediately. As knowledge of the diversity of artefacts and features grew it became obvious that a rapid survey of the wider area of Zeugma and its hinterland would add substantial information to the simultaneously progressing excavations.
Toward the western edge of the city, to the east of the steep gorge of the Bahçe Dere, a sheer limestone escarpment plunges vertically into the Euphrates. The rocky promontory atop the cliffs commands panoramic views of the landscape. A deep cutting seen in the base of the cliffs, was easily identified as the “Antiker Strassentunnel” recorded by Dr Jörg Wagner in the 1970’s. This tunnel walkway provided the easiest route to the area where Trench 1 was excavated at the western edge of the site. It also led past several deep rock cut rooms or chambers which still revealed traces of painted plaster on the walls. This feature was soon flooded and the walkway rendered impassable (see next slide).
Entrance to tunnel walkway Tunnel walkway (photo from Wagner, 1976, plate 10)
Hundreds of rock-cut features, including tomb complexes and rooms, were located. Many of these in Zone 4 took the form of shallow alcoves or niches, similar to those identified by Wagner. More substantial rock cut features were observed elsewhere, particularly on and adjacent to the cliffs above the tunnel and walkway. One rock-cutting appeared much larger than the others. This (below) seemed to represent two sides of an entire hollowed-out room. The beam slots still visible, show that it either had a roof at this level or an upper storey. Several metres above, on the steep side of the hill, a shallow rock cut alcove (right) hinted at some associated activity, perhaps ‘cool rooms’ or storage chambers. Field survey evidence seemed to suggest that an extensive series of rooms, tombs, or whole houses, might lie concealed on the hillside. At this point, however, urgent rescue activity was required elsewhere. The dam waters had begun to rise towards the lower terraces, where a complex network of streets and houses had already been discovered. High up on the steep slopes, this area was situated in a place of relative safety and would not be threatened immediately. The excavators took notes and drawings and would return later in the season.
In Area B work progressed and the water rose higher. The excavation areas moved further out towards the western limits of the city. The Oxford Archaeological Unit team opened Trench 12 (inset), revealing early structures on an unusual alignment, and shortly afterwards, Trench 13 (overleaf). Information from the early site walkover was used to position trenches where entire rooms and houses were found.
Work began in Trench 13. The trees were cleared and earth and rubble were removed from the base of the rock-cut room.
Room 13015, with painted plaster wall decorations (main picture). Recording work in Trench 13 (Insets); clockwise from top; (1) detailed drawing of painted plaster on acetate, (2) general view of work in Trench 13, (3) Environmental sampling (4) conservation of wall plaster by the C.C.A.
DISCUSSION OF ROOMS EXCAVATED IN TRENCH 13 (from interim report OAU 2000) It is probable that the rooms excavated within Trench 13 represent the diminished remains of a once grand and potentially large domestic dwelling. Although insufficient evidence exists to reconstruct the layout of the building, the extent of the visible erosion along the northern edge of the trench suggests that a significant portion of the building has been lost. Similarly, the slight width of the eastern wall within the sunken room (13015) suggests that it was an internal partition wall, further implying that a suite of associated rooms could have originally existed to the east. It is unclear at this stage whether the southernmost room (13004) was part of the same building or a separate property. Although the wall paintings throughout the trench are comparable in design and style, the evidence is insufficient to assume that they relate to a single building. Conversely there seems little doubt that the northern room (13069) was contemporary with the sunken room (13015). Just how access between the two rooms would have worked, if at all, is open to interpretation. The openings within their shared wall (13052) are likely to be internal windows letting in secondary light, either to the northern or sunken room, depending on their functions. If the two rooms were part of the same domestic range, access between them must have been via an adjoining eastern room that has since been destroyed. Insufficient evidence exists, in the interim, to attribute functions to the rooms with any confidence, although certain observations can be made at this stage. The room to the north (13069) was paved with a fine geometric mosaic very similar to that observed in the substantial peristyle villa excavated by R Ergec. Here, the mosaic was within a rock cut room lit by a single internal window that has been interpreted as a triclinium, later transformed into a cubiculum.The size of the northern room and its likely position deep within the property, suggest a private space, possibly also a cubiculum. The southernmost room (13004) and the sunken room (13015) were both furnished with high quality painted wall plaster and perhaps originally with mosaic floors. These must have functioned either as reception room or private chambers. A construction date for the building is clearly of importance in helping to discuss the wider development of the town. Although detailed analysis has yet to be undertaken, the mosaic pavement, wall paintings and brick construction seen in the two northernmost rooms clearly suggest a Roman date. The mosaic, stylistically similar to that found in Room 13069 in the House of the Mosaic of Dionysus and Ariadne in 1993 has been tentatively dated between the late second and early third century CE. Such a date would accord well with evidence for a general expansion of Zeugma during this period and with a phase of house building which included the relatively richsuburb found on the eastern edge of the town. Painted plaster decoration from Room 13015 (above) and Geometric Mosaic (below). Mosaic 13068
Late in the day, September 2000. Trench 13 can be seen to the right of the photograph, just before the rocky escarpment turns a corner. The mosaic room is already flooded, and the water is approaching rock cut room 13015. Rock cut room 13015 Trench 13 Area
SHORELINE SURVEY, FEBRUARY-JUNE 2001 After Excavations ceased in October 2000, the project moved straight into initial post excavation assessment ,analysis and processing of digital data. By February 2001 a more comprehensive picture of the city of Zeugma was beginning to come together. By this time the levels of the reservoir had settled to the limit of 382m. However, wave action along the shore had considerably eroded the friable colluvial layers protecting the structures, and a great many unexcavated remains were being destroyed by the water. An intensive survey of the eroded remains was then undertaken on the shoreline. Preliminary post excavation work is already revealing the enormous value of this work, to our understanding of the city. The shoreline survey presented an excellent opportunity to collect data in between excavated areas utilising the preliminary results of the interim report to inform our research strategy and allow known areas of importance to be targeted .
Trench 13 was one of the 11 areas re-examined during the course of the Shoreline Survey that subsequently led to a greater understanding of Zeugma as a whole. Wave action and fluctuations in the level of the reservoir over the winter months uncovered many new features including two rock-cut rooms close by Trench 13 (above left). Ground water run off contributed to the collapse of the colluvium covering another rock-cut room above Trench 13 (left). The survey team was also able to fill in gaps relating to the construction and arrangement of rooms 13069 and 13015. New rock-cut corridors were recorded, as well as evidence for four other rooms. These new findings, along with the discoveries made in the summer, are allowing more extensive and accurate interpretations to be made concerning the size, construction and status of what would have been an extensive hillside urban complex.
To give an approximate idea of scale: Room 13015 measures 4m N-S by 3.3m E-W. All wall plaster not shown, as work still needs to be carried out on CAD drawings of Trench 13. This fragment is shown to demonstrate how the eventual reconstruction might look. Trench 13: (above) Isometric reconstruction of rooms 13015 (south) and 13069 (north). The eastern wall of Room 13015 is shown cut away for the purpose of clarity. A fragment of painted plaster is shown on wall 13056. The whole of this room was originally lavishly decorated with wall paintings. The floor level of room 13015 was 1.25 m below room 13069, for reasons that are unclear. The wall to the south of the mosaic had windows, which were blocked at a later date. Entry to this room would have been via an arched doorway in the eastern wall. This was not discovered by initial excavations, but revealed in the shoreline survey, when the excavation baulks had been washed away.