The world’s largest sunken ship museum in İstanbul

From Today’s Zaman:

The world’s largest sunken ship museum will be established in İstanbul thanks to finds from the Port of Theodosius dating back to the fourth century, which was discovered in Yenikapı during excavations in the Marmaray project, an undersea commuter tunnel linking Asia and Europe.

Scientists studying the 36 sunken ships salvaged at the Yenikapı archeological site have been able to identify the trees used in building the vessels and their methods of construction.

Professor Ünal Akkemik from the forest engineering department at the forestry faculty of İstanbul University has said that the ships, dating back to the fourth century, were mainly made of oak. Noting that they are confident of uncovering the dates and methods of construction, Akkemik said: “So far 36 ships have been retrieved during the excavations, and I have conducted wood-related assays on 27 of them. We have completed our studies on 20 vessels. These ships were built mainly using oak trees as well as plane, chestnut, pine, cypress, common ash and beech. Some vessels were largely made of oak but had chestnut for the outer portions and oak for inner components. Others were mainly constructed using pine trees.”

Excavations during the Marmaray project had uncovered several archeological sites that would open a new chapter in the history of İstanbul, the Byzantine Empire and the world. These sites include secret passages, tombs, churches, works from the Bronze Age, ports, vessels and city walls that have been unknown to us until now. The archeological site at Yenikapı uncovered the ancient Port of Theodosius and with it, 36 sunken ships dating back from the fourth century were exposed to the light of day. Scientists at the laboratories of the forestry faculty at İstanbul University conducted several studies on samples from these ships to identify the trees used in their construction as well as their dates of construction. Akkemik said he has been analyzing the samples for two years. “The samples were sent to us after the sunken ships were salvaged. We conducted various tests and identified the materials used in building these ships. Four of these vessels were galleys. The rest were light commercial vessels,” he said.

Akkemik notes that ship no. 12 from the Yenikapı archeological site was the first vessel he examined in the group. “The trees used to build this ship were oak, chestnut, common ash, beech and walnut. All of these except for walnut can be found in the Belgrade Forest [in İstanbul]. This ship was probably constructed in or near İstanbul. Hard and durable woods from oak trees were used for the skeleton. Although oak is common in Turkey, we don’t know whether the oak used in this ship was procured from Turkey or elsewhere. It may have been procured from Romania or Bulgaria,” he said.

From Today’s Zaman.

 

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Turkey’s underwater cultural heritage in danger

From Hürriyet Daily News:

Underwater cultural heritage is being damaged by urban resorts, industrial development and sport divers, according to a number of Turkish experts, who complained about the ineffectiveness of legal measures on the matter during a Monday meeting.

“When you examine Law no. 2863, it is satisfactory from the perspective of protecting underwater cultural heritage, but the official sanctions are not sufficient. When a sport diver at 30 meters deep finds an amphora [a type of ceramic vase with two handles], he considers that a huge success and wants to keep it,” Dr. Ufuk Kocabaş, head of Istanbul University’s Department of Marine Archaeology, told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review.

Kocabaş, who is also in charge of the recent Byzantium shipwreck excavations in Istanbul’s Yenikapı district discovered during the construction of the Marmaray tunnel, was one of a number of experts attending the Regional Meeting on the Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage, held at the Istanbul Archaeology Museum.

Sport divers collecting amphoras makes work difficult for archaeologists, said Kocabaş, adding that an awareness of protecting culture should be fostered in the public through education.

During the Yenikapı excavation project, which has been continuing for five years, 35 shipwrecks dating back to Byzantium were discovered. Kocabaş said they had completed the conservation of 23 of the ships and noted that a team of 600 workers, 50 archaeologists from the Istanbul Archeology Museum and 30 academics from Istanbul University cooperated in the endeavor.

Asked whether the Marmaray project had damaged the ruins in any way, Kocabaş said it would have been hard for them to find the financial support to carry out such an extended study without help from the authorities undertaking the massive transportation project.

“We couldn’t have found the financial support without the benefit of the Marmaray budget. Even though this is called a salvage excavation, we have the privilege of determining our own deadline,” said Kocabaş, noting that conservation takes a longer time.

What is unique about the excavation is the discovery of Byzantine galiots, or warships, Kocabaş said, adding that researchers learned that technique applied was the opposite of what is currently used.

“In contemporary ship construction technology, the skeleton of the ship is first prepared and the outer coat is applied later. But, the Byzantine galiots were designed completely in reverse,” Kocabaş said, adding that nobody knew how a galiot was constructed before the discovery.

Thanks to this discovery, academics focused on the ship construction of the period, including the time span between the sixth century A.D. and the 11th, said Kocabaş.

Within the scope of the project, a museum where the findings will be displayed will be created. “Yenikapı and the Golden Horn are some of the candidate areas for the museum to be located,” said Kocabaş.

Replicas of the ships will be also designed so that people can enjoy the feel of being on an ancient ship.

From Hürriyet Daily News.

Lost Viking settlement found in Ireland

From Science:

The Vikings, the famed Scandinavian warriors, started raiding Ireland in 795 and plundered it for decades, before establishing two Irish outposts, according to the Annals of Ulster, a 15th century account of medieval Ireland. One outpost, Dúbh Linn, became Dublin, the other, Linn Duchaill, was lost in time. Perhaps until now. A team of archaeologists announced on Friday that it has found the lost Viking settlement near the village of Annagassan, 70 kilometers north of Dublin. “We are unbelievably delighted,” said archaeologist and team leader, Mark Clinton, an independent archaeological consultant.

The Annagassan locals have long believed they lived near an ancient Viking town or fort. The stories of Viking raids were told to local children by schoolteachers, and there were also occasional finds that underscored this story. For example, a few years ago, a set of handcuffs once used to shackle Viking slaves was found by a farmer ploughing land. The modern search for Linn Duchaill began 5 years ago when a local filmmaker named Ruth Cassidy, a member of the Annagassan and District Historical Society, enlisted the help of Clinton, a family friend, to find the lost Viking town. They searched through 2005, 2006, and 2007 and were on the point of despair when they came across a flat area—ideal for lifting boats out of the water for shipbuilding and repairs—a couple of kilometers up the River Glyde. They managed to secure funding to pay for a geophysicist, John Nicholls, to survey the site. Nicholls found a series of defensive ditches about 4 meters deep, running in lines. The pattern of ditches does not seem compatible with the typical Irish structure of the period, a ring fort, and no evidence of a Norman settlement, such as moat or castle remains, was found. That left just one other option: Vikings.

Despite this evidence, the researchers struggled to secure funding for excavation work. But the local Louth County Museum eventually offered funds to excavate at three locations. The team found 200 objects in 3 weeks, convincing them that they had found a major Viking shipbuilding town. There is evidence of impressive engineering, with an artificial island constructed out of the landscape to offer protection from attacks by the indigenous Irish. There is evidence of carpentry, smelting, and ship repair, with ship rivets dotted around the site. These features alone would make the site significant as few Viking longphorts—or shipbuilding towns—have been excavated. The team also found hacked coins, which Clinton says were a typical “calling card” of the Vikings, but there is also a total absence of pottery—the Vikings used wooden bowls. There are “high status” early Christian objects, too, probably stolen from the Irish.

Other Viking experts are cautiously optimistic that the long-lost Viking outpost has been found but emphasize the settlement needs to be solidly dated before the case is closed. “If the settlement found can be identified as Linn Duchaill, its value for linking archaeology to the written sources is very important,” says Peter Pentz, an archaeologist at the National Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen. “In addition, it appears that the site is almost untouched by later activity, unlike those of Dublin—some longphorts developed into urban settlements—and thus it might provide important knowledge of this particular type of settlement.”

“It’s really, really exciting,” adds Christina Lee of the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom, an expert in Viking studies of Ireland and Britain. “I’m looking forward to hearing about the finds and the dating of the finds. It’s a really important step in thinking about the westward expansion of the Vikings, and the importance that Ireland had for the Viking world is something that hasn’t been recognized. Ireland in the Viking age is of strategic importance.”

One lingering question is why Linn Duchaill was abandoned while Dublin thrived. One theory is that because Dublin has better 24-hour access to the sea, it meant that the Vikings there could take to their ships and head out when they were under attack. At Linn Duchaill, tidal fluctuations would cut off access for several hours a day.

From Science

First Minoan shipwreck – an unprecedented find off the coast of Crete

Crete has seduced archaeologists for more than a century, luring them to its rocky shores with fantastic tales of legendary kings, cunning deities, and mythical creatures. The largest of the Greek islands, Crete was the land of the Minoans (3100-1050 B.C.), a Bronze Age civilization named after its first ruler, King Minos, the “master of the seas” who is said to have rid the waters of pirates. According to Thucydides, he also established the first thalassocracy, or maritime empire. The Minoans were renowned for their seafaring prowess, which opened trade routes with the powerful kingdoms of Egypt, Anatolia, and the Levant.

Depictions of ships abound on Minoan seals and frescoes. They are detailed enough to show that the vessels were impressive: generally, they had 15 oars on each side and square sails, and were probably about 50 feet long. But little more was known about actual Minoan seafaring–until Greek archaeologist Elpida Hadjidaki became the first to discover a Minoan shipwreck.

Hadjidaki, a self-described “harbor girl,” was born and grew up in the Cretan seaside town of Chania. An experienced and passionate diver trained in classical archaeology, she received funding from the Institute for Aegean Prehistory in 2003 to search for early ships near Crete. “I always wanted to find a Minoan shipwreck,” she says, “so I started looking for one.”

For nearly a month, she and a team of three sponge and coral divers aboard a 20-foot-long wooden fishing boat trolled up and down the island’s shores. Together with George Athanasakis of Athens Polytechnic University, they used side-scanning sonar and detected some 20 “targets,” or anomalies, that Hadjidaki sent her divers to investigate, often reaching depths of 400 feet. One by one, they turned out to be a depressing array of natural geological formations and portions of the seafloor ripped up by the nets of deep-sea trawlers, as well as a World War II airplane, a 19th-century shipwreck, and several pairs of shoes.

On the second-to-last day of the survey, Hadjidaki decided to ditch the technology and go on gut instinct. She knew that in 1976, Jacques Cousteau had brought a team to the small island of Pseira, a Bronze Age port about one and a half miles from the northeastern coast of Crete in the Gulf of Mirabello. He was in search of Atlantis, thought by some to be associated with the nearby island of Thera. Cousteau had found Minoan pottery underwater near the shore, and suggested it came from ships sunk in the harbor by the volcanic eruption that destroyed Thera in 1650 or 1520 B.C. (The finds are now believed to be from houses on Pseira that fell into the sea during an earthquake.)

Intrigued, Hadjidaki and the team headed to a spot about 300 feet off Pseira, near where Cousteau had been. “I thought, why don’t I go there and check it out myself?” she recalls. “But I said, I’m not going to go where Jacques Cousteau dived. I’m going to go to the deeper part.” First, she asked team member Giorgos Klontzas to venture down. Hadjidaki anxiously prepared to wait on the boat for five hours, the average total time of a single dive plus stops to decompress. But Klontzas returned only half an hour later. “He came up with his hands full of ancient pots,” she beams. “And he said to me, ‘There’s a whole world of them down there.’ So I jumped into the sea and said, ‘Let’s go!’ “Sure enough, cups, jugs, and amphoras lined the seafloor, and over the next couple of days the team brought several more samples to the surface.

In 2004, she expanded the team and mapped the site. The following year, large-scale excavation got underway. “Everything was buried in sand between rocks,” Hadjidaki says. “As we excavated, we found more and more and more.”

To date, Hadjidaki’s team has raised some 209 ceramic vessels, about 80 of which are nearly whole and clearly identifiable as types of amphoras and large jars that would have transported liquids, possibly wine and olive oil, though no residues remain. A handful of artifacts, including cooking pots, jugs, a few cups, and fishing weights, likely belonged to the ship’s crew.

Philip Betancourt, a Minoan pottery expert who codirected excavations at Pseira from 1986 to 1996, has examined the finds from the site. Even though no wood from the ship survives, he is convinced they belong to a wreck because they are an unusually large group of ceramic vessels that all date to the same period (Middle Minoan IIB, 1800-1700/1675 B.C.) and were all made on east Crete. “One doesn’t get an assemblage like that,” he says, “except from a very specialized context–in this case, a shipwreck.” Furthermore, the pottery that was still in place was found upside down, which seems to indicate the ship completely capsized and wound up with the hull uppermost and the cargo down. “This may help explain why no wood was preserved,” he says.

Hadjidaki has closely studied the arrangement of the finds, working with team architect Dimitri Timologos who drew underwater maps based on the artifacts’ location. On the maps, she can trace a narrow trail of pottery about 100 feet long at the northern end of the wreck, where she believes the ship started to founder. The trail broadens into a roughly oval-shaped concentration that extends over an area 50 by 65 feet, from which she estimates–by the distribution of objects–the ship to have been between 32 and 50 feet long. Hadjidaki thinks it was similar to, but larger than, one depicted on a serpentinite seal stone excavated at Pseira in 1991. It shows a ship with a beak-shaped prow, high stern, and single mast connected to the vessel by ropes (but no oars, as in earlier representations of Minoan ships).

Alexander MacGillivray, director of excavations at Palaikastro, a Minoan town on the easternmost shore of Crete, has also looked at some of the finds. “It’s fantastic to get a glimpse of the cargo from a vessel that plied the eastern Mediterranean when the Minoans first started building their palaces,” he says (see facing page). “At that time, the Cretans were importing many of the raw materials required to fuel their development into one of Europe’s first great civilizations. This was all done by sea–and the Pseira ship is our first example of a Minoan vessel of that time.”

Pseira had two harbors on its southern side facing Crete, both of which were protected by peninsulas where ships anchored. From the main harbor, a grand stone staircase led up to a town that consisted of about 60 buildings. “We don’t know whether the ship was headed from the island, toward the island, or anchored there, accidentally floating out and sinking,” says Betancourt. “But presumably, it had something to do with Pseira, of course, because it’s very nearby.”

The type of clay from which the pottery was made suggests the ship took on cargo from at least two locations on east Crete. Based on the pottery, Hadjidaki and Betancourt believe this ship was not destined for a voyage abroad, but rather was making local stops. “This was probably a very common sight–these relatively small coastal vessels that dealt with local trade east and west along points of the island,” says Betancourt. “The wreck gives us a lot of information on what was likely the normal trade practice of seafaring people.” Jan Driessen, director of excavations at the Minoan settlement of Sissi on east Crete, agrees. “We know from frescoes and other iconographic material throughout Crete that the Minoans were good seamen, that they had large ships of different types,” he says. “The Pseira wreck seems to represent a coast-hopping activity, short trajectories with specific ‘clients.’ It helps us visualize that process of distribution.”

Hadjidaki completed the final season of excavations at the end of September 2009, recovering 60 more ceramic vessels. At press time, the finds were still soaking in fresh water to remove crusty layers of sea deposits. Next, they will be cleaned by conservators, studied by experts, including Betancourt, and join other artifacts from the site at the archaeological museum in Siteia on east Crete. But Hadjidaki already feels a sense of accomplishment. “It’s the only Minoan shipwreck that has ever been found and excavated,” she says with a broad smile. “Period.”

SOURCE

Written by Eti Bonn-Muller

Photos – Vasilis Mentoyiannis, Nike Marder

Archaeologists discover amphitheatre at Portus

Cleaning the first layerUniversity of Southampton archaeologists leading a major excavation of Portus, the ancient port of Rome, have uncovered the remains of an amphitheatre-shaped-building, solving a mystery which has puzzled experts for over 140 years.

The excavation team, working in collaboration with the British School at Rome, is conducting the first ever large-scale dig at Portus on the banks of a hexagonal shaped man-made lake which formed the 2nd century harbour, near the Italian capital.

“When the site was visited by archaeologist Rodolfo Lanciani in the 1860s he marked on his plans the remains of a theatre, but subsequently no trace of the building could be found,” says Portus Project Director and leading expert in Roman Archaeology at the University of Southampton, Professor Simon Keay.

Portusportimage72dpi“Our team has rediscovered this ‘theatre’ and proved it was in fact a building more akin to an amphitheatre. Lanciani had only found half of the structure, leading him to misinterpret its shape and function.”

Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, experts from Southampton have been working with colleagues from the BSR, The Italian Archaeological Superintendency for Ostia and the University of Cambridge, to carry out extensive excavation at Portus. They have uncovered a large Roman warehouse, the ‘amphitheatre’ and what the team have identified as an Imperial palace. This is likely to have played host to renowned emperors such as Hadrian.

Portus_amphitheatre72dpiPortus was Rome’s gateway to the Mediterranean for most of the Imperial period and played a key role in funnelling food, slaves, wild animals, marble and all manner of luxury goods from across the Mediterranean and beyond to the citizens of Rome. It was vital to the survival of the Empire and the only real ‘transport hub’ serving the city.

“The ‘amphitheatre’ we have discovered was similar in ground area to the Pantheon in Rome, but it is unclear exactly what it was used for,” continues Professor Keay.

“Gladiatorial combat may have taken place there – wild beast baiting, the staging of mock sea battles, or it may have been a form of Roman ‘folly’, shaped like an amphitheatre, but used as a monumental garden. It is unusual to find this type of building so close to a harbour.”

Portus_marble_head2LHaving solved one riddle, archaeologists have now uncovered another; the white marble head of a statue unearthed at the site of once-luxurious rooms close to the ‘amphitheatre’. It is thought the head dates back to the 2nd or early 3rd century, however it is less clear who it depicts.

“The elderly bearded male wearing a flat skull-cap could suggest it is Ulysses, however it is equally possible it is a representation of one of the Greek sailors who accompanied him on his travels. For the moment his identity remains a mystery,” concludes Professor Keay.

Part of the ‘Portus Project’ involves the work of the University of Southampton’s Archaeological Computing Research Group. They are producing computer generated images which bring the port to life and provide archaeologists with a valuable ‘tool’ with which to explore the site. The University of Southampton and the BSR are jointly using ground-penetrating radar and other techniques to map buried buildings and Portus_marble_head1Lother structures. The Portus Project has also been undertaking a geophysical survey of the Isola Sacra, an island to the south of Portus, and has found a major new canal and traces of Rome’s marble yards.

Research has been underway at Portus for several years and Professor Keay hopes to continue working there. “This is one of the most important archaeological sites in the world,” he says.

“Certainly it should be rated alongside such wonders as Stonehenge and Angkor Wat in Cambodia. So much of this Imperial port has been preserved and there is much more to learn about its role in supplying Rome and in the broader economic development of the Roman Mediterranean.”

SOURCE

“Viking ship” discovered in Sweden’s largest lake

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Marine archaeologists in Sweden have discovered what they believe to be the wreck of a Viking ship at the bottom the country’s largest lake.

A team of 50 divers from the Swedish coastguard happened upon the 20-metre long wreck by chance on Wednesday afternoon.

“Never before has a Viking shipwreck been found in Swedish waters,” marine archaeologist Roland Peterson from the Vänern Museum told The Local.

A few Viking boats have previously been discovered in Sweden, but earlier finds were made on dry land, Peterson explained.

One of the ship’s ribs was discovered protruding from the bottom of the lake, while the rest of the boat was filled with a one metre-thick layer of sediment.

A wood sample from the ship, as well as iron samples from a spear and a sword found with the vessel, are to undergo expert analysis over the coming weeks.

“We can’t be sure of anything until we get the dating results back, which could take around a month. But the sword did seem semi-familiar,” said Peterson, referring to the weapon’s apparent similarity to earlier Viking era finds.

The ship’s clinker-built structure also strengthened the hypothesis that the vessel found in the Lurö archipelago, in the middle of Lake Vänern, dates from the Viking era. Vänern is Europe’s third largest lake, with an area measuring 5,648 square kilometres.

The Swedish coastguard and the Vänern Museum are currently involved in a joint project to discover and examine shipwrecks lodged at the bottom the vast lake.

Six other wrecks have also been discovered within a 100 metre radius, three of which were found lying almost on top of each other.

“But it’s too early to say whether these date from the same era,” said Peterson.

SOURCE