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8 November 2008
Dig unearths ancient Turkish treasures

Above ground, the Istanbul suburb of Yenikapi is a normal, modern-day bustling port on the Marmaris Sea. But beneath the waters, its newly discovered treasures are rewriting the history books. So far, 32 wooden ships, Stone Age skeletons, coins, amphorae and even a basket full of ancient cherries have been uncovered in an area that is thought to have been the first Byzantine port of the ancient city of Constantinople.
     "These findings are extremely important and special for Istanbul's history," says Dr Ismail Karamut, the director of the Istanbul Archaeological Museum and head of the Yenikapi excavations. Sait Basaran, the head of a team of researchers from Istanbul University, described it as a 'once in a lifetime' archaeological site. Items uncovered will provide academic fodder for years to come, particularly since the geological make-up of the site has allowed objects that would normally disintegrate to be preserved.
     In August, Dr Karamut and his team came across four ancient skeletons buried in graves six metres below sea level. The two adults, aged approximately 35, and two children under two, are thought to have lived during the Neolithic age, around 6,000-6,500 BCE. The objects found with them, particularly ceramic pieces, have led Dr Karamut and his colleagues to conclude there was an ancient settlement in Yenikapi whose inhabitants lived on animal grazing and farming. Researchers have also linked the findings to the remains of an ancient settlement in Çatalhöyük, a Neolithic site in southern Anatolia which was excavated in the 1960s. The similarity between the sites suggests that settlers in the Anatolian planes migrated to Istanbul's shores some 8,000 years ago. If so, the finding reshapes the image of Istanbul as a city begun by the Romans and suggests it is much older than 2,800 years. "Istanbul's history," Dr Karamut has said, "must be erased and be rewritten."
     The excavations are proceeding with no sign of abating. More than 750 archaeologists continue to unearth, examine, catalogue and conserve findings in a project that began in a 58,000 square metre space and has since expanded. When all is said and done, Dr Karamut says there are plans to build an archaeological park over the site that will exhibit the finds.

Source: The National (6 November 2008)

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