Mosaic workshop destroyed by earthquake unearthed

Excavations in the area of the Northwest Quarter of the ancient city of Jerash, Jordan, have unearthed a workshop used for mosaic construction. The building is believed to have collapsed during an earthquake in 749, turning the workshop into a time capsule.

Composite image of the site (by Danish-German Jerash Northwest Quarter Project)

It is believed that the house was abandoned after the earthquake, but prior to it artisans from the Umayyad period were putting mosaics for the floors of the house in it. The excavated area was filled with troughs containing thousands of mosaic tesserae, which were clearly unused and ready to be assembled into a large mosaic. The area of the find is part of a large building, dubbed the House of the Tesseare, named for numerous tessera pieces used for mosaics. It was an extravagant two-storey house, possibly owned by wealthy people, with several rooms surrounding a courtyard with a rainwater cistern, and Roman-style Corinthian columns on the porch. The higher floor of the building is believed to have collapsed to the ground during the earthquake.

Tesserae (by Danish-German Jerash Northwest Quarter Project)

Archaeologists believed that there were renovation works being conducted during the earthquake as both floors were barren of all furniture and daily objects, walls were prepared for new wall paintings and floors for new mosaics. The upper floor was already adorned with large mosaics in geometric pattern. It is believed that the tesserae were made on site and carefully stored before being used. Among the finds is also a skeleton of a young person who was likely trying to exit the house when the earthquake hit. A metal hammer was found near the body and it’s possible that it was used for tesserae production or mosaic placing. The earthquake was so large that people did not return to the area of Jerash until 12th century. Over the past six years archaeologists documented over a million pottery shards in the Northwestern Quarter of the city, none of which date to the period after the earthquake.

Tesserae through as found on site (by Danish-German Jerash Northwest Quarter Project)

(after Live Science & Danish-German Jerash Northwest Quarter Project)

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