|11 January 2009
Istanbul's ancient past unearthed
Archaeologists in Istanbul (Turkey) have discovered a grave that proves the city is 6,000 years older than they previously thought. The skeletons of two adults and two children lie curled-up, perhaps to save space. Alongside them are pots: gifts placed in the grave to use in the afterlife. The ancient family was unearthed at the site of a 21st Century rail project.
"We found the grave, pots and other artefacts. There were signs of houses made of tree-branches and next to the settlement was a swamp where we found small tools, wooden pieces and bones," explains Ismail Karamut, head of the Istanbul Archaeology museum, which is leading the dig. "It all shows there was a Neolithic settlement here in the historic peninsula of Istanbul where people lived, farmed and fished," he adds. Historians had believed modern-day Istanbul was first settled around 700 BCE. The discovery of the skeletons has revealed far deeper roots.
"Neolithic culture changed as it moved west. Not all of what we call the 'Neolithic package' was transferred," explains Professor Mehmet Ozdogan of Istanbul University. "Domesticated animals and some of the cereal crops came, but mud brick became wooden architecture, settlements were re-organised. The transformation is important to understand the Neolithic culture in Europe. Every new site adds data to the picture." Neolithic remains were discovered in two Istanbul suburbs in the 1950s and 1980s, but this is the first such find in the historic heart of the city. That has created a stir the other sites never managed.
Prof Ozdogan believes the Yenikapi settlement dates from between 6400 BCE and 5800 BCE - long before the Bosphorus Strait had formed and in the days when the Marmara Sea was a small, inland lake. Istanbul's first inhabitants appear to have lived on both sides of a river that flowed then through Yenikapi.
Scheduled to last six months, Yenikapi archaeological dig is still going strong four years later. Under pressure to complete their excavations and let-in the rail project construction workers, archaeologists have at times worked in shifts, digging 24 hours a day. The cost of the delay to construction has not been calculated yet. The Yenikapi dig has now reached bedrock, so archaeologists don't expect any more major discoveries. They're still working through piles of ancient swamp mud though, which has preserved some of the oldest wooden artefacts ever found.
Source: BBC News (10 January 2009)
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