100-year-old find among rare finds in Iowa town

A gold-decorated mosaic that was recently discovered in Van Meter, Iowa, on a farm is significant for the number of ancient artifacts that have been unearthed there during the past 50 years. The mosaic, which stretches 1,700 square feet, has previously been recovered from a Central African site, and taken to museums around the world, including the United States, which valued it at around $75,000.

“It’s truly remarkable,” Cedar Falls teacher Robin Poitras told the Des Moines Register.

“It’s funny how things come together in life,” Silvia Burchett, an anthropology professor at Iowa State University and lead archaeologist on the project told the Register. “We tried to ignore [where the mosaic came from] in the beginning, because it was not expected.”

“Everybody was speculating that this was a prehistoric pottery, and the fact that this found a home in agriculture gives some indication that this was using a farm,” said Burchett. “It may not have been designed like a marketplace, but it would have been more than just some wallpaper.”

Because of their size, large, metallic objects such as these are difficult to discover and delicate to clean. Burchett decided to avoid the cleanup process by targeting the mosaic’s back side, in hopes of finding the diamonds embedded in its lower surface. “What we’re talking about is once-in-a-lifetime,” said Burchett.

The technique was the right one, and the mosaic is one of the most rare discoveries since the 1869 excavation of Europe’s first Roman city, Melos. The central portion of Melos, a settlement in the Pyrenees near modern-day Troy, included a large mosaic — much larger than the one in Iowa.

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