Reclining by a wine jug and a portion of bread, a cup in one bony hand, the skeleton on a 3rd-century BCE mosaic discovered in Turkey has a simple message for its viewers: “Be cheerful, enjoy your life.” The words in ancient Greek frame its skull and were revealed in a recent excavation in the ancient city of Antioch, located near today’s Syrian border.
According to Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency, the mosaic was found in 2012, but was shared by the agency last week. The Daily Sabah reports that excavations were launched in the area when construction began on a new cable car. The bacchanalian skeleton is part of a group of mosaics discovered on what’s believed to be a dining room floor. One directly beside the skeleton shows a man racing towards a sundial, another reminder of the passage of time.
The skeleton is just one of the many incredibly intact mosaics found at Antioch, such as the “Worcester Hunt,” which shows lions, deer, and other beasts falling beneath warriors on horseback and is now at the Worcester Art Museum, and the quieter, figurative scene “The Judgement of Paris” at the Louvre. Yet Demet Kara with the Hatay Archaeology Museum told the Hürriyet Daily News that the skeleton is “much more comprehensive” than most other mosaics found from its era. Kara added that it’s also “important for the fact that it dates back to the 3rd century BC.” [EDIT: There have been questions raised as to if this date is accurate, but at this time we are reporting what the museum has provided.]
It’s also not the only ancient mosaic to contain a corpse in the carpe diem spirit. Another similarly lounging but oddly fleshy skeleton was found along Rome’s Via Appia and is now part of the Museo Nazionale Romano. And two separate mosaics discovered at Pompeii feature, respectively, a skeleton standing with two wine pitchers and a skull balancing on a wheel between symbols of wealth and poverty, suggesting that death is the “great leveler.” While they might appear grim, their meaning was much more about celebrating life in the face of death than pondering that shared mortal fate.
UPDATE, 4/28: Hyperallergic contributor and former intern Cihan Kucuk in Turkey directed us to some more recent information from local news sources. Nikos Tsivikis with the Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum reported to Arkeofili that, contrary to the initial dating of 3rd century BCE from the Hatay Museum, it’s more likely to be from the late Roman period (2-4th century CE). And further discussion of the mosaic in harmony with the two adjoining pieces reveals that it might have a meaning more connected to the space, which was possibly a dining area for an almshouse. Murat Bardakçı reported to Haberturk that a more accurate translation would be: “You get the pleasure of the food you eat hastily with death.”
Hurriyet Daily News, which initially reported the previous translation, also followed up with additional opinions from experts, reporting that some believe the mosaic was initially “wrongly interpreted.” Historian İlber Ortaylı also told the publication that a “new, separate museum” should be set up for the mosaic area, and hopefully further research and the international attention for the mosaic will reveal more about its unusual design.
MTV’s The Exhibit Is Back With an Inflatable Dolphin
Episode four, in which artists tackled themes of justice and injustice, was the most lifeless of the reality TV show so far.
Florida Principal Ousted Over “Pornographic” Michelangelo Sculpture
Parents complained that the famous sculpture was shown to their sixth graders.
The Milton Resnick and Pat Passlof Foundation Presents The Feminine in Abstract Painting
Curated by Jennifer Samet and Andrea Belag, this group exhibition in NYC explores the feminine through aesthetics, as opposed to identity or gender.
Tickets to Sold-Out Vermeer Show Are Going for Hundreds
The online resale market for the Rijksmuseum’s smash exhibition is booming, with tickets selling on eBay for over $2K.
NYU Steinhardt Opens 2023 MFA Thesis Exhibitions
Taking place at 80WSE Gallery in New York’s Greenwich Village, Part I is on view from late March through April while Part II opens in May.
Miniature Worlds: Joseph Cornell, Ray Johnson, Yayoi Kusama
Through small-scale works, this exhibition at the Katonah Museum of Art in New York examines Cornell’s prominent role in the lives and careers of Johnson and Kusama.
Three Looted Antiquities at the Met Repatriated to Turkey
Nine other repatriated works were seized from Met Trustee Shelby White, whose collection was subject to a criminal investigation.
This week, the world’s lightest paint, Pakistan’s feminist movement, World Puppy Day, and were some of Vermeer’s paintings created by his daughter?
The Wider World and Scrimshaw
On March 28, join the New Bedford Whaling Museum online and in-person for a symposium on global carving traditions from across the Pacific Rim.
Who Will Decide on the Future of a Miami Native Burial Ground?
Native activists say sacred remains and objects dug up from a Brickell construction site should remain there, but mega-developer Jorge Pérez is pushing back.
How Can a Curator Approach South Asian Futurisms?
How do I acknowledge my shortcomings while reckoning with obscured histories and the exclusion of subaltern narratives in the fine art landscape? A working checklist for curators.
MCA Chicago Presents On Stage: Frictions
Will Rawls, Shamel Pitts | TRIBE, and Barak adé Soleil explore Blackness, queerness, movement, and dance in performances at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago.
The Complicated Legacy of Camilo Egas
The Ecuadorian painter, a leading figure of Latin America’s Indigenismo art movement, has been both praised and scorned for his representation of Indigenous peoples.
Tom Jones Zeroes in on Ho-Chunk Visibility
“I think about the young kids, the teenagers, and I think being able to see yourself represented in art is so powerful,” says the artist.
A third century mosaic is not 2,400 years old.
third century BCE
I left that off due to a typo, thanks for catching it and it’s been updated!
Hello Ms. Meier,
I’m definitely not a classical historian, but those mosaics do not look that old to me. Are you sure they are not from the third century CE? A quick check of the wikipedia site for the Hatay Archeological Museum (which I visited in 2008) suggests that the mosaics are from the Roman era, which means the 2nd or 3rd century CE. I think it’s worth checking.
I can only base it off the information provided by the agency, but I will keep an eye out for future updates and it’s possible the information being shared will change as the mosaics are researched.
I’m sorry if you think I’m being intransigent, but I see your article spreading over the web and conveying quite a large error that is not likely to be eradicated any time soon. There are, however, other articles on the web that have gotten it right. This is not a debate about fine points of scholarship – it’s something that most people with an undergraduate art history course might recognize. I suggest that if you are not qualified to make this judgement call yourself, maybe you should not be writing articles about archaeological discoveries, and if you are not able or willing to track down accurate information, maybe you should not be doing journalism.
I think the author has been more than considerate to you and explained the source of her information, as well as the fact that she is relying on info from the archeologists involved with the museum. This quote from another source (this from Turkish media) reiterates her point: “[This is] a unique mosaic in Turkey. There is a similar mosaic in Italy but this one is much more comprehensive. It is important for the fact that it dates back to the 3rd century B.C.,” Kara said.
As she said, as soon as she gets new information from her sources (which is journalism), she will update. The museum may be sending out conflicting info, which is possible.
We encourage the questions you raise, but if you continue to attack her journalistic integrity, I will ban you from the forum. Thanks.
Ban me if you want, but don’t expect me to believe that propagating internet memes is journalism. I may have an overly simple notion of journalistic integrity, but I expect journalists to vet their sources of information, not simply reproduce what is fed to them. The phrase ‘according to reliable sources’ may be a journalist’s cliche, but it contains the promise that information has been independently verified by the journalist before being disseminated. A quick check on the Hatay Museum should have raised general concerns about its reliability as a source, for example: http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/ancient-mosaics-seriously-damaged-during-restoration-in-turkeys-hatay.aspx?pageID=238&nID=81921. Of course, one might argue that a notorious reputation for commissioning shoddy restoration is not a reason to question a date in a press release. How about reading the first line of the wikipedia article on Antoich’s Mosaics, which says: “The *Antioch mosaics* are a grouping of over 300 mosaic floors created around the 3rd century AD …” It’s not worth my time to take this tiff any further; personally, I find most late Roman mosaics gaudy and trite – they make perfect web fodder.
Outliers always exist in archeology, so the source (i.e. museum) is pretty reliable. Thanks for commenting.
Generous of you to say so, but archeology also has its out-and-out liers.
Archeology by the fact that it’s a science and study of history of something that actually occurred can’t have outliers. That’s called revisionism. Art for arts’ sake has been in bad taste before. Lies are marketing. Truth is art. The minute you sniff the lie it’s over – whether it’s true or not. Someone dropped the ball is all I know for sure. And I’m glad someone cared enough to point it out and you cared enough to defend it. What’s next? The outliers wanna know,.
And worse. Archeology has it’s out and out cultural destroyers and mockers. That’s why archeology is a science and not an art.
Dionysus is a hell of a god right?
(I doubt any museum that does’t mention the correlation. Kenneth is right to be concerned and I commend him for sticking to his desire to keep art journalism artful not just creative.)
How do you know or why do you believe it was created by an outlier. What is an outlier in that age and culture? If it’s from another time how do you prove it’s an outlier once again? Evidence please.
Btw, I also think it is probably 2-3rd century CE.
I think it’s Dracula.
I think it Tim Burton.
Why do you think so?
Actually Kenneth….it is worth the time. Even if they didn’t intend it to, tell me what could be deduced when you read this and this. Yikes to the YOLO.
Even if the time is spent in debate only. It’s worth it. Man this give me the worst willies.
He did not attack the writer’s journalistic integrity. Perhaps you should be defending that since you brought it up? Just sayin’…
(the publisher and executive editor are responsible ultimately for the integrity or lack of it – just in case people reading don’t know this.)
Die-Oh-Nice-Is. ::wink:: Ya gotta laugh to keep from crying.
Comments are closed.