Unearthing the 1,800 Year Old Medusa Mosaic at Huerta de Otero


In the heart of western Spain, at the Huerta de Otero archaeological site in Mérida, a remarkable discovery has taken place. A team of skilled archaeologists has unearthed a vibrant 1,800-year-old mosaic featuring the head of a ‘winged’ Medusa. This find not only showcases the artistic brilliance of the Roman era but also sheds light on the historical significance of the region. In this article, we will delve into the fascinating story behind the Huerta de Otero archaeological site and the captivating legacy of the serpent-headed Medusa.

Unraveling the Ancient Hub of Medusa Mosaic

Winged Medusa Mosaic found in a Roman-era house in Spain
The Roman house where the Medusa head mosaic was found. (Image credit: Mérida City Hall)

Dating back to the Bronze Age, the Huerta de Otero site was once a thriving hub of ancient Iberian civilizations, flourishing between the 15th and 8th centuries BC. The Roman expansion into the Iberian Peninsula during the 3rd century BC led to their assimilation of the local Celtic and Iberian tribes over the following centuries.

Rediscovering the Roman ‘Domus’

Winged Medusa Mosaic found in a Roman-era house in Spain
The mosaic has four colorful peacocks that represent the four seasons. (Image credit: Mérida City Hall)

The journey to uncover this stunning mosaic began in 1976 when archaeologists first excavated the site. They identified the remains of a Roman ‘Domus,’ a large villa that once served as a center for business and worship. Re-excavations began in 2019, leading to the discovery of new rooms within the Domus and a street running parallel to the ancient city wall. However, the highlight of this season’s excavation was undoubtedly the unearthing of the “30 square meters (322.92 square feet)” winged Medusa mosaic.

Legacy of the Serpent-Headed Medusa Mosaic

Winged Medusa Mosaic found in a Roman-era house in Spain
A section of the mosaic found in the Roman house. (Image credit: Mérida City Hall)

In Greek mythology, Medusa, the serpent-haired Gorgon, was a feared creature capable of turning people to stone with her gaze. Perseus, the heroic son of Zeus, embarked on a perilous quest to slay Medusa and rescue his mother. The mosaic found at Huerta de Otero portrays Medusa surrounded by masks, geometric patterns, and wildlife, including four colorful peacocks symbolizing the four seasons. At the center of a patterned octagon, Medusa stands, representing “the aegis of Athena,” the shield that held her severed head after her defeat by Perseus.

Using Evil to Repel Evil

Dr. José Vargas, an archaeologist from the Barraeca II Professional School, interprets the depiction of Medusa as an “apotropaic” representation—a way to repel evil. Contrary to popular belief, early depictions of Medusa described her with a beard, tusks, and pointy teeth. It was not until the Roman period, around 100 AD, that she took on the appearance of Alexander the Great, with wild curly hair and a turned head.

Mosaic’s Multicolored Marvel

The vibrant colors in the mosaic allow researchers to date it to the second century AD. Medusa is portrayed with a round face, bulging eyes, unkempt hair, a slightly turned face, and white wings coming out of her forehead. These wings connect her with the Roman messenger deity, Mercury. While the wings are artistic liberties and regional variations, they enhance her menacing appearance and symbolize her supernatural and deadly nature.

A Well-Preserved Gem of Medusa Mosaic

Félix Palma, the director of the Monumental City Consortium, marvels at the well-preserved state of the site. The mosaic adorns one of the domus’s main rooms, possibly the dining room known as the triclinium. In addition to the Medusa mosaic, the site boasts an array of paintings and sculptural motifs, offering a glimpse into the opulence and artistic finesse of ancient Roman life.


The discovery of the 1,800-year-old winged Medusa mosaic at the Huerta de Otero archaeological site in western Spain is an extraordinary testament to the region’s rich history and artistic legacy. This intricately designed masterpiece not only showcases the artistic brilliance of the Roman era but also allows us to appreciate the significance of mythology in shaping ancient culture.

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