Pandemic affects Antioch

The 500-pound gorilla is coronavirus, so even though I planned on continuing to write about the geopolitics of Antioch during the time of the mosaics, the Roman Empire, this blog will address the gorilla and those centuries-old mosaics in the time of a modern pandemic. 

Our Antioch Recovery Project is shut down now along with other classes.  We are instead finishing the class portion of the course online. At our major research university, the research has shut down. Much has been written about the many important scientific and medical (ironically, many potentially life-saving) projects, often longitudinal, that will stop precipitously. This is truly dire.

Yet, often forgotten is the impact on non-scientific research.  Even though we continue our research online for this project, long anticipated field trips to see other Antioch mosaics at Princeton and beyond are cancelled.   Personally, my own research has been impacted because I can’t get to the library to look at ancient books in the rare books collection or borrow unique books from borrow-direct.

The biggest impact to me, however, involves collaborations.  For the past several weeks, my research for my next blog was on the “missing” Antioch mosaic sent to Cuba on July 8th 1937[1]. Via the internet, I was able to isolate its last documented location in a report from Princeton University.  According to the report, the mosaic’s provenance was Villanova University, Havana, Cuba.  After Castro’s 1959 revolution, religion was banned in 1961, and religious buildings were nationalized and “repurposed” (to borrow from current pandemic language). 

So began my adventure.  I reached out to a colleague, a History professor at the University of Havana, who had served as my translator when I did an archeology internship in Cuba in 2018 and who I have stayed in contact with and now consider a dear friend.  He told me that after Villanova University and its church were closed, it was abandoned for a while.  The church that accompanied it was almost destroyed. Now, the University is a technical institute in Playa Municipality of Havana Province.  He shared my energy for this historical mystery and agreed to travel the following week to the site to try to find the mosaic and return photographs via Facebook to me.  This would help our Antioch Recovery Project confirm not only the location of a missing Antioch mosaic, but give us an idea of its condition, as well. 

That was three weeks ago.  Since then, Cuba reported its first coronavirus infection statistics and its first deaths. And I haven’t heard from him on the project.  I suspect that he is well, and that Cuba is taking public health precautions by locking down the island but doesn’t want to report that.  Yet, each day that goes by, I wonder.  My concern is compounded by my technology.  About a week ago, the photos app on my cellphone pulled up some photos of us at the Bay of Pigs last spring break.  It was only a year ago, but in many ways that carefree time period seems as long ago as the third-century of the mosaics.


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