ISTANBUL - Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently repeated something he said back in 2011: archeological digs, or “pots and pans” (çanak çömlek) as he put it, are delaying the Marmaray rail project under the Bosphorus.
For starters, let's not forget that the archeological digs, which started at Yenikapı in 2004, have thus far led to the discovery of a total of 35 sunken vessels and an inventory of 38,000 historic artifacts. The oldest wooden tools on earth from the Neolithic age were unearthed on these digs. Above all, it was determined that the founders of the European civilizations passed through Istanbul, confirming that the history of the city goes back 8,500 years.
Moreover, it is not true that the digs delay Marmaray. The construction site was handed over by the archeologists in 2009 but the train line could not be finished since then. Still, it’s the digs that take the blame.
Digging the Marmaray tunnel - Photo: Muhammed Enes Okullu
Marmaray, a co-project of the Transportation Ministry and the Metropolitan Municipality of Istanbul, is Turkey’s biggest mass rail project ever. The archeological digs started in 2004 when historic findings were discovered during the construction of the stations at the locations of Üsküdar, Sirkeci and Yenikapı. The archeologists turned over Üsküdar in 2007, Yenikapı in 2009 and Sirkeci in 2010 to the related directorate of the Transportation Ministry.
A first from the Middle Ages
The works in Yenikapı, the greatest archeological dig in the history of Istanbul, started three meters above sea level, within an area of 58,000 square meters. The archeologists unearthed the Harbor of Eleutherios, the greatest port of the early Byzantine era, between one to 6.3 meters below sea level. A total of 35 sunken vessels (13 at the Marmaray digging side and 22 at the subway digging site) dating from the 5th to the 11th centuries were discovered. A galley from the Middle Ages was found -- a first in the world. There is no other archeological site anywhere in the world that houses so many sunken vessels preserved in earth.
Items from the Neolithic age were found buried in mud under the Harbor of Eleutherios, approximately 6.3 meters below today’s sea level. The presence of human graves at this level excited the archeologists and turned the eyes of the world to Yenikapı. Finding the first 8,500-year-old human grave changed the very history of Istanbul, extending it 4,500 years further back than previously believed. Wood was used in those graves -- which is rare for the Neolithic age. Wooden tools such as arrows, bows and canoe oars found there were the oldest ever discovered.
The digs that lasted nine years produced an inventory of 38,000 items from the Neolithic age to our day, enlightening the history of the city. There are also 40,000 cases worth of “pots and pans.” The sea embankments stratified between the Harbor and the Neolithic level also presented very important findings to understand the changes the Sea of Marmara went through over the past 10,000 years.
Oil lamps found at the Harbor of Eleutherios - Photo: Gryffindor
Oldest foot prints
So far, 390 footprints belonging to the oldest inhabitants of Istanbul from the Neolithic age were also discovered during the diggings. The archeologists said: “The ground is muddy since there was a river bed. [The footprints] later dried and were preserved like molds. They were covered up with river sand a short time later either by the river overflowing or a sudden flood. We are uncovering the footprints one by one by brushing the sand.”
The foot sizes range from 35 to 42 and it is presumed that the people wore sandals or shoes made of leather. Archeologists believe the place may have been a ceremonial gathering location since there are many footprints in layers, above each other.
Again, we should all remember that there is no other location in the world to house this many footprints that old.