Earliest Mosaic in the World Found in Turkey

Earliest Mosaic in the World Found in Turkey

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World’s Oldest Mosaic Unearthed in Turkey

The earliest known mosaic in the world, Anacleto D’Agostino from Pisa University records, is a primitive tiled floor laid in a geometric design that is discovered in a pre-classic Hittite city in central Turkey. Moreover, he adds, the settlement where the mosaic was found maybe the lost Hittite city of Zippalanda.

Discovered during the excavation of prehistoric Usakli Hoyuk, the multichromatic patterned surface is in the courtyard of a public building – which archaeologists interpret to be a temple to the Storm God, D’Agostino writes in Antiquity, published by the Cambridge University Press. Made of stones of varying size and shape, the Late Bronze Age floor is also the earliest-known rendition in the rock of geometric patterns.

Since 2008, the Anatolian Archaeological Project in Central Anatolia has been revealing the ancient town’s long history. They have found fragments of cuneiform tablets indicating that it was once a major Hittite center. 

Dr. Anacleto D’Agostini of Pisa University, who took part in the mission, wrote that the site may be the “lost Hittite city of Zippalanda,” according to Haaretz.

The stone Bronze Age mosaic floor is in the foreground.

During work on the site, a large building on a terrace, which dated to the Late Bronze Age, was found. This had the characteristics of a building that was constructed during the Hittite period. It was believed to be a temple that was possibly dedicated to the Storm God, a very important deity for the Hittites and other populations. 

Near this possible temple, a courtyard was located, and it was here that archaeologists made the remarkable discovery of a mosaic.  The experts found a paved floor that measured about 20 ft by 9 ft (7m by 3m), which was poorly preserved.

The floor was paved with some 3000 pieces of stone, that appeared to have been roughly shaped and cut. Haaretz quotes D’Agostini as saying that “the mosaic was framed with perpendicularly positioned stones in white, black-blue and white again”. 

Closeup of the Bronze Age mosaic at Usa̧klı Höyük.

Unlike later mosaics, it was not made out of smooth and small stones.  All the stones that were found were cut in irregular shapes and the floor would not have had a smooth finish.

According to Haaretz “one wonders how comfortable it was to walk on and one envisions a lot of twisted ankles.” However, the mosaic was possibly deliberately made to be uneven so that slippery mud would not form on its surface.

The stones have been clearly set to produce geometric patterns using divergent colors reports Antiquity.

The mosaic is divided into three distinct areas, and each one contains a number of triangles. It is discerned to have been created at the same time as the Hittite temple because it is closely aligned with its eastern wall.

D’Agostino is quoted by Haaretz as saying that the “building and mosaic are characterized by ‘high-status architecture’” and this lends credence to the theory that indeed the unearthed structure was the Temple of the Storm God.

The discovery of this Bronze Age mosaic at a Hittite site is astonishing. Flagstone and cobblestone, often painted, have been found at sites associated with this Bronze Age culture.  They have been found in temples and even private rooms. However, no decorative mosaics have been found ever, until this one at Uşaklı Höyük.

“The technique of making mosaic floors using different colored pebbles is well known during the Iron Age,” according to the report in Antiquity. 

There are many examples of checkerboard mosaic floors from the Iron Age. But until the discovery at Uşaklı Höyük, the earliest known mosaic had been found in southern Anatolia at the 9 th century BC Phrygian Gordion citadel.

Aerial shot of the excavation area shown, including the Storm God Temple and the Bronze Age mosaic are (highlighted in yellow).

However, the discovery of a Bronze Age mosaic floor at Uşaklı Höyük is considerably older than anything yet found. Moreover, the design of the mosaic was much more complex than anything found from the time. Antiquity reports that the find “provides the first evidence of a polychromatic mosaic floor with clear patterning.”

It is possible that the mosaic may represent an older tradition from Anatolia. Antiquity reports that the pavement “could represent a Late Bronze Age Anatolian forerunner for later polychromatic mosaic floors.”

The discovery may indicate that the art of mosaic making developed much earlier than widely believed and this could provide new clues into its stylistic development. The find may result in the experts re-writing the history of images made out of polychromatic stones, an art-from that reached its zenith in the Classical Period in the Mediterranean. 


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