A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America
It's no wonder the young French scientist walking among the olive and pistachio trees along the Euphrates receives quizzical stares from the locals. Hooked up by electrical cables to a device on his belt is a pair of metal prongs resembling an old television aerial that he holds out before him as he strides along. There's no doubt that the onlookers suspect the man may be a lunatic, but, as the film Lost Roman Treasure shows, his promenade through the groves is a dramatic example of what remote sensing--more properly, geophysical prospecting--can do. In just a week or so, he and his partner record the layout of the ancient city of Apamea--no mean feat in any case and a technological triumph given the site's imminent flooding.
Lost Roman Treasure (airing on the PBS series NOVA October 8, 8:00 p.m. EST) tells of a French team's work at the Greco-Roman metropolis of Zeugma in southeastern Turkey just before the site's partial inundation in the fall of 2000. Founded ca. 300 B.C., Zeugma was an ancient Minneapolis-St. Paul, with Seleucia on the west bank and Apamea on the east bank. A wealthy trading center, it was home to Rome's fourth legion and in its heyday had a population estimated at 70,000.
The film's highpoints are the magnetometer survey, described above, and the discovery of an elaborate mosaic of the Cretan queen Pasiphae with Daedalus and Icarus. But the film puts too much emphasis on the mosaics, characterizing the project as a race to save the "treasure" (mosaics), not to learn about the city and its inhabitants. Nonetheless, it is worth watching. Much more work was done at Zeugma and much more was learned about the city than Lost Roman Treasure conveys. The film, for example, doesn't mention several excavations underway before 2000. What's more, there's no note of the Packard Humanities Institute, which in June 2000 made $15 million available, funding the deployment of 250 foreign specialists and local workers as well as an international team of conservators.
For a broader perspective on Zeugma, see "Troubled Waters" (September/October 2000), which gives background on earlier work at the site, and the Zeugma 2000 Archaeological Project website (www.zeugma2000.com), which includes the work funded by the Packard Humanities Institute. In addition to the history of Zeugma and the project, the website offers sections such as a "Gallery" of photographs (excavations, finds, and architecture), "How Do They Do That?" (explanations of archaeological techniques), and a "News Archive" (the most recent update is from March 2002). Unfortunately, the website is rather haphazardly organized; a broad summary of the work and results would be a welcome addition. That said, it is well worth digging into and wandering about it.
Click here for ARCHAEOLOGY's multimedia reviews.