Yenikapı dig to postpone opening of Istanbul Marmaray, academic says
ISTANBUL – Hürriyet Daily News | 11/1/2010 12:00:00 AM | İPEK EMEKSİZ
Continuing excavations on Byzantine shipwrecks in Yenikapı will postpone the opening of the Marmaray Tunnel Project due to the presence of unearthed artifacts at the site.
Continuing excavations on Byzantine shipwrecks in Istanbul’s Yenikapı neighborhood will postpone the opening of the Marmaray Tunnel Project due to the presence of unearthed artifacts at the site, the archaeological dig’s head has said.
“Because two more gigantic ships still await excavation and because the conservation work for all the ships needs to be completed, the Marmaray Tunnel Project will not go into operation for at least two years,” said Dr. Ufuk Kocabaş.
Kocabaş, head of the Yenikapı Excavation Project and Istanbul University’s Department of Marine Archaeology, said 35 shipwrecks belonging to the Byzantium period have been excavated so far at the 58,000-square-meter site.
As such, the official date for the opening of the Marmaray, a comprehensive urban rail network that will link both sides of Istanbul, will now be Oct. 28, 2013, project spokesman Zekeriya Kapancı told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review earlier this week.
“Even though most of the archaeological work has been completed for the Marmaray Project, more excavation still needs to be done on one side where the Yenikapı-Taksim metro line is being completed,” said Kapancı. “Also, the construction of the metro station hasn’t finished yet.”
[HH] Discovery changing understanding of ancient shipbuilding
Now considered one of the biggest shipwreck projects in the world, the Yenikapı excavation project located at the port of Theodosius (Yenikapı), hosts Neolithic remains from 6500 B.C. that provide data about previously unknown facets of Istanbul’s history.
“During the excavation of the port, we discovered a land habitat under the sea. This proves that the Marmara Sea used to be a lake around which people lived during the Neolithic Period,” said Kocabaş.
Ultimately, however, five Byzantine galleons made of Black Sea chestnut wood unearthed by the excavation teams were the most extraordinary discovery, according to Kocabaş, who added that the technique used in their construction was the opposite of what is currently used.
“The ships sunk at a transition period when the craftsmen were improving their techniques. Instead of forming the skeleton first, they prepared the outer skin of the ship first,” said Kocabaş.
Kocabaş said the sunken ships were full of a number of amphoras, a type of doubled-handed ceramic vase, and added that the materials carried within the vases gave specific clues about the era when the ships sunk and the direction in which they were heading.
The grain found within the amphoras indicated that commerce with Alexandria in Egypt was especially flourishing, while the cherries indicated that most of the trade ships sunk during the summer, he said.
“During the journey back from Egypt, large ships, which were 40 meters in width, were left at [Bozcaada] at the mouth of the Dardanelles due to the impact of strong currents. The goods were carried back to Constantinople with smaller cargo ships,” said Kocabaş.
According to hypotheses, a tsunami in the sixth century A.D. was the main reason the ships sank.
[HH] Imaging system
The project is being documented with a specialized imaging system, Kocabaş said. Using three-dimensional recording devices that use 30 different kinds of layers, the excavation team has worked to combine the images in a photo mosaic technique, thereby producing a more complete representation of the ships.
The team has shot 400 thousand photos in total, Kocabaş said.
So far, the conservation work for 23 of the 35 shipwrecks has been completed. Removing all the timber pieces with care, the archaeologists put the pieces of wood into protection pools with a special chemical to prevent the timber from shrinking, said Kocabaş. “If the water within the timbers evaporates, they crackle and shrink; our aim is to stop that.”
Noting that they had found more than 35 thousand artifacts, Kocabaş said a team of 600 workers from the municipality, 50 archaeologists from the Istanbul Archeology Museum and 30 academics from Istanbul University were cooperating on the endeavor.