WARSHIPS FROM THE BYZANTINE ERA WERE UNEARTHED DURING MARMARAY EXCAVATIONS

ARCHAEOLOGICAL FINDS UNEARTHED DURING THE EXCAVATIONS CONDUCTED DURING THE MARMARAY PROJECT, WHICH ENABLES PASSAGE ACROSS THE BOSPORUS FROM UNDER THE MARMARA SEA, TOOK THE KNOWN HISTORY OF ISTANBUL 4500 YEARS BACK IN HISTORY. THESE EXCAVATIONS, WHICH CAUSED MARMARAY, ONE OF THE LARGEST PROJECTS IN THE WORLD, TO BE DELAYED FOR 4 YEARS, HELPED DISCOVER THE LAYER BELONGING TO THE NEOLITHIC PERIOD, WHICH CHANGED THE KNOWN HISTORY OF ISTANBUL, AND REVEALED THAT THE TRUE AGE OF ISTANBUL WAS INDEED 8500. MOREOVER, WARSHIPS AND MERCHANT SHIPS BELONGING TO THE BYZANTINE ERA WERE ALSO UNEARTHED DURING THE EXCAVATIONS. THE EXCAVATIONS, WHICH HAVE BEEN UNDERWAY FOR 9 YEARS WILL BE COMPLETED AT THE END OF THIS YEAR.

Marmaray, one of the largest underwater tunnel passage projects of Turkey, and the world indeed, has been opened recently. Following the financing agreement signed by Turkey and Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) in 1999, geotechnical research and investigations for Marmaray were started on July 25, 2002.

Deep sea drilling was initiated in the Bosporus towards the end of 2002. A contract was signed for Marmaray with TGN, an international consortium consisting of three partners from Turkey and Japan, in May 2004. The leading partner of the consortium was Taisei Corporation from Japan while Gama and Nurol Construction from Turkey rolled up sleeves for Marmaray as local partners. And on 17 June 2004, archaeological excavations, which would delay Marmaray for 4 years, were initiated. During the excavations, 37 sunken boats and 38 thousand artifacts worthy of being displayed in museums were excavated. The number of earthenware pieces, on the other hand, exceeded 40 thousand. Theodosius port, the largest port in the Byzantine era, was uncovered during digs that were conducted 6.5 meters below the sea level at Yeniköy. Here, traces of life belonging to Neolithic period were encountered and a human grave aged 8500 was also found, which meant taking the history of Istanbul 4500 years back in history. The world’s oldest wood finds such as arrows, bows, and canoe oars were discovered in the excavations, where more than 2 thousand footprints were encountered.

We had an interview with Veterinary Anatomist and Osteo-Archaeology specialist Prof. Dr. Vedat Onar from Istanbul University Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, and Assoc. Prof. Dr. Ufuk Kocabaş, Head of The Department of Conservation and Renovation of Portable Cultural Assets at Istanbul University and Head of the Division of Conservation and Renovation of Underwater Cultural Remains, who played major parts in Marmaray excavations led by Istanbul Archaeological Museums:

How did Marmaray excavations change the course of the known history? Is there an example of such an excavation in the world?
VEDAT ONAR (V.O): A layer belonging to the Neolithic Age was found, which changed the history of Istanbul. It stands out as the only excavation that continued for 9 year in a big city. If it were in another country, the excavation site would have been moved to another site.
UFUK KOCABAŞ (U.K): Construction work undertaken during the transformation of ancient cities such as Rome, Pisa, Athens and Marseille into modern metropolises witnessed archaeological discoveries that shed light on the history of these cities. The opposite of this would be inconceivable for Istanbul, which served as a capital city for three empires.

Remains of Langa Orchards from the Ottoman Era and Theodosius Port, which was known from the Byzantine sources but whose position and true size were controversial, were found. Tens of thousands of artifacts providing new information about the daily life, religious beliefs, trade and technology of the period were uncovered. Remains of 37 ships, on the other hand, constitute the largest known collection of medieval wrecks.

What is the significance of the artifacts recovered from the wreck for Turkey and the world? 
V.O: Examples of 55 animal species ranging from fish to Byzantine horses were found during the excavations, which were very important in terms of animal skeletons. This is one of the first in the world…
U.K: Providing unique information about the typology of ships in the Byzantine era, shipbuilding technologies and the evolution of these technologies, these wrecks are without doubt the most important Project for scientists working in this field. The fact that wrecks dated to different periods were found in the same area reveals the uninterrupted development of trade and shipbuilding Mediterranean.

If it were not for Marmaray, could these wrecks have been unearthed? 
U.K: It was a real surprise that more than 2000 footprints were found among the remains from the Neolithic era, which is dated 8500 years back in history. Although it was known that Theodosius Harbor was in the vicinity of Yenikapı, no archaeological excavations had been undertaken there until the Marmaray project. The contribution of the Marmaray Project to the finding of Yenikapı wrecks is undeniable.
V.O: Without Marmaray, these artifacts could not have been uncovered.

Did you, scientists, know about those wrecks?
U.K: Naturally, nobody had any idea until the first ship was found. However, we knew, from excavations abroad, that wrecks could be found in such harbor excavations. Yet, finding as many as 37 wrecks was a surprise.
V.O: Nobody had any idea until Marmaray excavations were begun.

Where are the unearthed artifacts being kept and will be they be exhibited to the public?
V.O: Animals bones are being kept at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine of İstanbul University in Avcılar and studies are being conducted on them. We put on display those, the investigation of which have been completed, in an exhibition hall. Primary and secondary schools take a huge interest in this exhibition.
U.K: The artifacts unearthed from the excavation area were taken to the laboratories of Istanbul Archaeological Museums in Yenikapı for conservation and conservation and repair work is still under way.

How does it feel to be part of such a project?
V.O: I was extremely delighted when I was first called, I got excited. But, I did not expect such extensive finds. In fact, sometimes bones found their way into my dreams. There were times when we were worried about how we would deal with such heavy work.
U.K: From the beginning to the end, it was a busy and stressful project. We supplied the scientific world with very many methods that will certainly find their way into the relevant literature. I feel happy as scientific publications appear on the wrecks. Another thing is that we raised a good team. Yenikapı holds a significant place in all of our lives.

Were the excavations carried by hand or by machines? What was the size of the excavation site?
V.O: Excavations were performed in an area of 58 thousand m2. Machinery is never used in excavations. We worked so elaborately that even footprints were discovered.
U.K: Excavations were conducted by hand in an area ten times the size of a football pitch. Although it was a rescue excavation, we worked very carefully as if it were a systematic excavation. Yenikapı excavations are a great of source of pride for Turkish Archaeology.

How much interest did foreign scientists take in the excavations and the outcomes?
V.O: There was interest from many countries such as the USA, Germany, Poland, Bulgaria, France, Austria and Scandinavian countries. Scientists from these countries were interested in the finds that concerned their field of study. It was an excavation that drew the attention of the world. Occasionally, we made joint publications but the chief responsibility was on Turkish scientists.
U.K: We hosted thousands of scientists from the day the excavations were begun. We organized “The International Symposium on Ship and Boat Archaeology” and “The International Symposium on Water-logged Archaeological Artifacts”. I, too, gave over 500 conferences at home and abroad.

Was the contribution of the state to the work satisfactory?
V.O: It was by our side in every respect. Nowhere in the world has an excavation been conducted for 9 years inside a city.
U.K: We, as İstanbul University, took part in Yenikapı Rescue Excavations upon invitation and support by the Directorate of İstanbul Archaeological Museums. We really worked in harmony with the Marmaray Regional Directorate of DLH (State Airports and Harbors) and İstanbul Metropolitan Municipality Directorate of Railway Systems.

50 ARCHAEOLOGIST PARTICIPATED
An average of 50 archaeologists and 600 workers conducted the excavations in which, in addition to, various species of animals, eating habits in those years and what the types of trees used in building warships and merchant ships were revealed. Directorate of Istanbul Archaeological Museums cooperated with the relevant departments of various local and foreign universities and received scientific support in the fields of archaeology of ships and boats, conservation, osteo-archaeology, geology, archaeo-botany, philology, dendochronolgy, forest botany, prehistory and anthropology. The excavations are scheduled to be completed at the end of the year.

NEW FINDS
Despite the presence of prehistoric settlements such as Yarımburgaz and Fikirtepe in the vicinity of İstanbul, no such discoveries had been made before. The finds consisting of spaces built in the style of wattle and daub with round plans, necropolises near these spaces belonging to people who were buried after being burned using the cremation technique, various tools, organic remains and ceramic works helped us get to know this culture, which belonged to a people who were the oldest settlers in the historic peninsula.

GENERAL FEATURES OF YENIKAPI WRECKS:
Yenikapı wrecks reveal different shipbuilding techniques ranging from traditional coating-based examples in the past to framework (scaffolding)-based examples. A wide of variety of examples were found involving wrecks in which dove-tailed joining methods were used, to transition period boats where dowels were used in joining coatings, as well as those in which no such things were used.

A MUSEUM WILL BE SET UP
A new museum called Yenikapı Museum will be set up to exhibit the artifacts unearthed during the excavations. This will be the world’s largest maritime museum. Conservation of water-logged wood takes long years. Therefore, laboratories abroad where such ship work is undertaken are open to visits until work is completed.  A project has been prepared to make the laboratory in Turkey suitable for visits and search for sponsorship is underway.

The conservation work for the ship called Yenikapı 12, which is on display at Marmaray Yenikapı station, will be completed within two years and be ready to be exhibited. Moreover, a replica of this ship will be launched in 2014.

WHO IS PROF.DR. VEDAT ONAR?
Onar, who identified 55 species of animals as a result of his studies during the Marmaray Project, also reached some details about types of nutrition, wealth of sea food and Byzantine horses belonging to the Neolithic period. Working on thousands of boxes of bones, Onar helped exhibit the finds in an exhibition held on Avcılar Campus of İstanbul University.

WHO IS ASSOC. PROF. DR. UFUK KOCABAŞ?
He obtained information, during the Marmaray excavations, about what trees were used in what parts of the war ships and Merchant ships built between the 5th and 11th centuries.

Kocabaş, whose scientific work is concentrated on underwater archaeology, conservation of underwater cultural heritage and ancient shipbuilding techniques, is leading the Yenikapı Wrecks Excavation and Conservation Project on behalf of İstanbul University. He also led the team who removed 29 of the 37 wrecks from the Byzantine era, which were uncovered during this project.