Erich Lessing

Tunisia houses one of the richest and most abundant collections of mosaics in the world—and Kerkouane has some of the world’s oldest. Originally, the Phoenician settlers arranged colored stones in geometric patterns; they later created world’s first true mosaics, by setting square tesserae in a mortar bed. The mosaic figure shown here depicts the Phoenician-Punic goddess Tanit, with a circular head, outstretched arms, and a triangular body that may represent Tanit’s robe. This sign appears on stelae from Kerkouane and on hundreds of Carthaginian stelae marking the graves of infants sacrificed to Tanit. The Tanit motif likely had an apotropaic function, intended to ward off evil.