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Proconnesian marble: full of possibility

Eroded surfaces obscure detail.

Small pockets reveal the marble's sparkle.

4 Aug

My favourite artifacts from the ‘church wreck’ are ones that have been entirely consumed by erosion and marine life. I see endless beauty in the decay that 1500 years beneath the sea has caused. There are no better examples of this than Proconnesian marble, quarried and shipped from the island of Proconnesus in Turkey. An ever-present artifact on the site, Proconnesian marble is registered as ‘gray marble’ because of its colour. Shipped widely, gray marble was used in many sacred buildings across the ancient Mediterranean, including the Hagia Sophia.

At Marzamemi we see Proconnesian marble in columns, capitals, and chancel screens. Underwater, the stone erodes dramatically, and its surface takes on a bubbly appearance. This transformation often makes it difficult to distinguish underwater between badly eroded marble and limestone rocks. Sometimes marble can be identified by looking into the little eroded pockets in the stone and seeking the sparkle of the stone. More deeply buried sometimes seem less eroded, preserving a polished surface.

What I love about Proconnesian marble is how ever present it is, visible virtually everywhere on the site in sizes ranging from large columns and capitals to tiny gleaming chips. While we generally assume that all fragments of green marble come from the ambo, Proconnesian marble is full of possibility. Through careful observation of preserved shapes and decoration we have the chance to determine what each piece might have become if the ship hadn’t met its fate off the coast of Marzamemi.

ECH