Mosaics recently unearthed in Şanlıurfa, Turkey (all photos courtesy Şanlıurfa Metropolitan Municipality)

A series of curious mosaics have emerged during archaeological excavations of rock tombs in Turkey, representing individual portraits of the long-deceased. Archaeologists working on the historic Castle of Urfa in the southeastern city of Şanlıurfa unearthed the floor tiles, according to the announcement from the Şanlıurfa Metropolitan Municipality, and they estimate that the images date to the first or second centuries CE.


Detail of mosaics recently unearthed in Şanlıurfa, Turkey

The team had unearthed the ancient necropolis on the castle’s site about 10 months ago and have since found nearly 80 additional rock-cut tombs. The newly discovered mosaics frame two men and two women in four separate squares within a border of repeating motifs. Each is rendered similarly: simply, from the bust up, in tiles of a limited palette, and accompanied by Syriac inscriptions.

Not much is currently known about the figures; who they are and the nature of their relationship remains a mystery, for now. Preliminary dating of the mosaics makes it likely they lived between 132 BCE and 639 CE, when Şanlıurfa was known as the Kingdom of Edessa, where the Syriac dialect first developed and production of Syriac literature flourished.

The archaeologists have decided the decorated floor will remain in situ. Once the excavation project ends, the site will be opened to tourists, who will be able to gaze upon the figurative memorials — much more somber and sober images of death than that skeleton mosaic recently found about 200 miles away in Antioch.

Claire Voon is a former staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from Singapore, she grew up near Washington, D.C. and is now based in Chicago. Her work has also appeared in New York Magazine, VICE,...