A huge, intact Roman mosaic is being touted as the most significant archaeological find in a decade in Syria, already considered "an archaeologist's paradise," per AFP. The 1,600-year-old mosaic was found beneath a building in Rastan, a former rebel stronghold that saw intense fighting until its capture by government forces in 2018, per the BBC. Rebel forces apparently tried to sell the mosaic via social media in 2017. It's a good thing they were unsuccessful because "what is in front of us is a discovery that is rare on a global scale," Hamman Saad of Syria's General Directorate of Museums and Antiquities tells the AP. "It is not the oldest of its kind, but it's the most complete and the rarest," he adds, per AFP. "We have no similar mosaic."
That’s saying something, as impressive mosaics can be found at some of Syria's most famous archaeologist sites, including Umayyad Mosque in Damascus and the ancient city of Palmyra. Idlib's Maarat al-Numan Museum also hosts beautiful and ancient mosaics, though many were damaged during bombing in 2015. Other mosaics in Rastan were looted, per AFP. Saad says the newly uncovered mosaic, made up of half-inch, square-shaped stones, is beautifully detailed, showing demigod Hercules slaying the Amazon queen Hippolyta in one of his 12 labors and sea god Neptune with 40 of his mistresses. There are also scenes from the mythical Trojan War across the 1,300-square-foot mosaic measuring 65.5 feet long by 20 feet wide, per the BBC.
It’s thought more of the mosaic—found in a building on property donated to the Syrian state by Syrian and Lebanese businessmen from Lebanon's Nabu Museum—might still be found. "There are other buildings, and it's clear that the mosaic extends far wider," Sulaf Fawakherji, a famous Syrian actress and member of the museum's board of trustees, tells the AP. However, it's unclear if the state has access to those other buildings. Archaeologists are still trying to determine the purpose of the building currently under excavation. "We can't identify the type of the building, whether it's a public bathhouse or something else, because we have not finished excavating yet," Saad tells the AP. (Read more discoveries stories.)