1,500-Year-Old Byzantine Port Discovered
ISTANBUL, TURKEY -- Engineers have uncovered more than 1500 years old ruins of an ancient Byzantine port during drilling for a huge underground rail tunnel.
Like Romans, Athenians and residents of other great historic cities, the people of Istanbul can hardly put a shovel in the ground without digging up something important.
But the ancient port uncovered last November in the Yenikapi neighborhood has grown into the largest archaeological dig in Istanbul's history, and the port's extent is only now being revealed.
Archaeologists call it the "Port of Theodosius," after the emperor of Rome and Byzantium who died in A.D. 395. it is also being expected to gain insights into ancient commercial life in the city, once called Constantinople, that was the capital of the eastern Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman empires.
According to Dr. Cemal Pulak, of Texas A&M University and the Institute of Nautical Archaeology in Turkey, the engineers working on the tunnel project were surprised to stumble on the ruins. But he said archaeologists knew from ancient documents the port was somewhere around Yenikapi.
"This was the ancient harbor of Byzantium, the Theodosian harbor," Pulak said, pointing to the dusty site around him, which he said was probably an expansion of an earlier port known as Eleutherion.
It is believed that the ships were wiped out all at once in a giant storm. He said the wooden boats, all apparently destroyed around 1000, make up a sort of "missing link" in the history of shipbuilding because of the fusion of old and new techniques in a single boat.
"When I came here and saw those ships, the lower part built by the ancient method, the upper part by the modern method, it was more or less the missing link," Pulak said.
The site is huge, about four city blocks long by two to three wide. Hundreds of workers dig with picks and shovels, dusting items off or rolling wheelbarrows up wooden planks.
Hundreds of cracked clay pots have indicated how merchants carried wine, olive oil and other trading items, and some carry markings that give clues about how the pots were handled and traded.
"We've found things that shed important light on the history of Istanbul," said Ismail Karamut, head of the archaeological project.
As per the officials, it is being planned to build a museum on part of the site and incorporate it into the rail project, which is meant to ease traffic on the jammed streets in the city of 15 million people.