The story of Zeugma and creation of The Tell program

Allen Schoer – Chairman, The TAI Group

The team of French and Turkish scientists who have spent four years searching the 125-acre site for the majestic ancient Roman city of Zeugma is running out of time. A new hydroelectric dam is under construction, meant to vastly improve the lives of modern Turkish citizens by harnessing the power of the Euphrates River and flooding the ancient valley. At the height of the Roman Empire’s power, Zeugma boasted the only bridge across the Euphrates, serving as the hub for all trade routes between Persia and India, and archaeologists have long surmised that priceless treasures must be buried there. But with the completion of the Birecik Dam only weeks away and very little to show for the time invested, they resort to guesswork as frustrations mount. How many treasures, they wonder, can be excavated before the remains disappear beneath a mammoth reservoir? When, if ever, would they locate the city center, the villas, and works of art?

At the eleventh hour, an international team of archaeologists, architects, land surveyors, geophysicists and art historians arrive. Soon, they discover a section of the city walls and a network of sewer tunnels. With only two weeks left, they locate a villa. In one area a tiny section of a brightly colored painting appears through the ancient dust. As careful workers delicately brush the area, the visible section expands. News spreads through the camp and excitement grows. Gradually a beautiful wall painting emerges, stunning in its detail and artistry. In quick succession, the team uncovers several more. In the corner of one room, they realize their greatest aspirations. They reveal a beautiful mosaic floor, more than 200 square feet in size, a stunning portrait of an old man and a beautiful young woman. The colors are so vibrant that the blues and greens still shimmer in the light. Jean-Pierre Darmon, one of the archaeologists, declares: “It’s one of the most original and beautiful mosaics I have ever seen from this period, an absolute masterpiece. We’re in the presence of a great artist. You have to imagine that the child who is born in this house has all the time in front of his eyes this image. His imagination is formed by this image and the others in the house… it’s extraordinary.”

Interested parties from around the globe soon realize the importance of this discovery and bring pressure to bear on the Turkish government. Martin Hall, President of The World Archaeological Congress writes to Prime Minister Tony Blair: “The severing of people from the materials through which they understand their past has demonstrable traumatic effect…” A short extension is granted, allowing for several more digs. Each discovery yields more information about the villa and its wealthy, influential family. Computer models construct a complete picture, portraying one of the most luxurious and well-preserved Roman houses ever uncovered, which include a beautiful garden, an ornate dining room and an elaborate bathhouse.

The race against time takes on another dimension. Can the beautiful mosaic and other extraordinary artifacts be safely removed in time? The team members, working frantically, yet with great care, use glue, hammers and gauze to cut the mosaic into transportable pieces and ship it to the local museum in the city of Gazientep, where it will be protected, studied and then shown to the world. But unfortunately, time runs out as fourteen more chambers are discovered, housing many mosaics, each a masterpiece in its own right. As the waters rise around the villa, the team abandons the site, with joy for the discoveries made and grief for what will be lost forever. A team member, Pierre Leriche, sums it up: “When you realize what’s going to disappear and all we haven’t been able to do, you can’t help feeling bitter… all of that will be irredeemably lost.”

The tale of Zeugma touches on a major concern in my own life: time. Rather than being rushed along, in the name of “progress,” by the floodwaters of everyday pressures and demands, do we take the time we need to uncover our own inner treasures? Time, patience, and careful exploration are key elements in the trilogy of programs I created called “The Tell.” The name comes from James Michener’s masterful book “The Source,” a fictionalized account of the discoveries made at Meggido in Israel, one of the most famous archaeological digs in the world. The narrative revolves around a “Tell”, a near-eastern term which refers to the site of a huge mound, layers upon layers of artifacts and earth formed through successive periods of human occupation over an enormous time span. My “Tell” program includes two intensive 3-day courses, “Vision and Will” (in which Danita participated) and “Reinventing the Self;” and a three-month-long weekly exploration entitled “The World According To You” that helps people unearth and articulate their personal visions.

As I explored the idea of uncovering personal vision, first in myself, then with my students, I began to view each of us as “a site of vast resources,” the actual dictionary definition of the term, “tell.” We all contain enormous potential trapped under layers of belief system rubble. If personal vision is within us, I thought, perhaps all the clues to uncovering it must be within us as well, and if we could somehow carefully dig through the layers, we might begin to get to the “buried treasure” and uncover creative intuitions, patterns, values and guiding principles in our lives.

Although the program title comes from archaeology, it was my theatrical experience that originally prompted me to think about personal vision. When I direct a play, my first responsibility is to uncover the playwright’s ”vision” – the underlying spine or theme woven through the characters’ words and actions that gives the play its life. The message can be simple, entertaining, stimulating, provoking; it is the playwright’s perspective that must be conveyed to the audience. In the vision work I do with clients, we dig through the “scripts” of each “character’s” beliefs to get to the “playwright’s” true vision underneath; character and playwright, in these cases however, are one and the same.