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Yenikapı wrecks shed light on Byzantine ship production

An inventory of the types of wood used in the production of 37 sunken ships discovered in Istanbul’s Yenikapı neighborhood during the construction of the city’s Marmaray subway project has been taken, shedding light on ancient ship production techniques.

Yenikapı wrecks shed light on Byzantine ship production
The archaeological findings, discovered as part of the excavations for the Marmaray 
metro project, includes the Harbour of Theodosius, the oldest harbour of the early 
Byzantine era, 36 sunken vessels and around 45,000 artefacts  
[Credit Raphaël Dallaporta/Istanbul University 
Yenikapi Shipwrecks Project]
Associate Prof. Ufuk Kocabaş from Istanbul University’s Department of Conservation and Restoration, said scientific study of the shipwrecks had continued after the end of the excavations in Yenikapı, in a written statement.

He said teams from the Istanbul Archaeology Museum were carrying out the documentation and protection of thousands of artefacts which were obtained during excavations between 2005 and 2013.

He said the conservation work for 27 of 37 shipwrecks found in the Byzantine-era Theodosius Harbour was continuing at the Yenikapı Shipwrecks Research Lab, adding the most important findings at Yenikapı were the shipwrecks from various periods.

Yenikapı wrecks shed light on Byzantine ship production
Shipwreck number 12, sunk with cargo still largely intact. This is one of 36 found 
 during the excavations of the lost harbour of Theodosius at Yenikapı, Istanbul 
[Credit: Institute of Nautical Archaeology at Texas 
A&M University /R. Ingram]
Kocabaş said the shipwrecks were unique sources to learn about the function of the harbour and ship production technology in the ancient era.

“The recent data shows that among these Byzantine-era ships, the ones from the 5th and 7th centuries were made of needle-leaved trees such as cypress and pine trees, while the ones from the 9th and 11th centuries were totally made of large-leafed trees including oak and chestnut trees, and those between the 7th and 9th centuries were made of both type of trees. There is an evident change in the material of ships between the 5th and 11th centuries. The observations of 27 shipwrecks, which date back for a long time period, shed light on ship construction techniques in the Byzantine era and also the changes in the use of wood through time,” said Kocabaş.

Yenikapı wrecks shed light on Byzantine ship production
One of the 37 Byzantine wrecks on display at the Istanbul Archaeology 
Museum [Credit: Hurriyet]
He said the third volume of a book series of the Yenikapı shipwrecks’ anatomy was about to be finished, adding, “The Yenikapı shipwreck numbered 12 was studied at the university as a doctorate thesis and it was the first shipwreck whose examinations have been fully completed. The next [step] is to work on its details. It will be the first archaeological sample whose construction technology will be examined by Turkish academics.

It takes years to work on the anatomy of a ship and it is hard work. We try to find a sponsor for the books that we write on this issue.”

Kocabaş said they had been working on a detailed map showing Byzantine-era trade and products as well as drawings of Byzantine-era artefacts and the locations of harbors. “The goal is to release 20 academic books on these findings which will bring us the world’s largest shipwreck museum in Istanbul,” he added.

Stating that the variety of shipwrecks provided a unique opportunity to understand the development of ship production technologies in the Mediterranean, Kocabaş said, “I have compared shipwrecks from the 5th and 10th centuries, which are of various sizes and were constructed with different techniques. The galleys, which are very different from trade ships with their long and naïve body structures and wood types, are the first archaeological samples dated back to the Byzantine era. Galley remains are rarely seen in underwater archaeology works. Since the galleys used in the Byzantine fleet have been so far examined in iconographic sources, these first samples provide a unique opportunity for the examination of ship construction technology.”

Scientific work on the shipwrecks has been continuing, said Kocabaş, adding the restoration of nearly 1,500-year-old wooden remnants might take many years.

Source: Hurriyet Daily News [October 24, 2015]

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