Intact 5th Century Merchant Ship Found in Istanbul

During the continuing archaeological excavations at the Yenikapı Marmaray construction site in Istanbul, the world’s best-preserved shipwreck, a merchant vessel whose contents and wooden parts are in exceptionally good condition, was revealed.

Archaeologists believe the ship dates to the fourth or fifth century CE and that it sank in a storm, but remarkably most of the amphorae on the ship are still in perfect condition.

The excavations started in 2004 at the construction site and reached back 8,500 years into the history of İstanbul. Skeletons, the remains of an early chapel and even footprints, in addition to 35 shipwrecks, have been uncovered by archaeologists so far.

The ship was loaded with pickled fry (a type of small fish) and almonds, walnuts, hazels, muskmelon seeds, olives, peaches and pine cones

The 15 to 16-metre-long, six-metre-wide shipwreck loaded with dozens of amphorae found last May brings new historical data to life. The amphorae differ from previous finds. It is assumed that the ship was completely buried in mud and this oxygen-free atmosphere protected it and its contents from further damage. The ship was loaded with pickled fry (a type of small fish) and almonds, walnuts, hazels, muskmelon seeds, olives, peaches and pine cones were also found on the wreck in incredible condition.

Songül Çoban, an archaeologist on the excavation, says they need a further two months to completely uncover the shipwreck, which was found four-five metres below sea level, adding that they were working eight hours a day and that such a detailed excavation was incredibly demanding.

The Yenikapı vessel is one of the best examples of a shipwreck in the world in terms of both the actual structure and the cargo. When the wreck was first discovered, the mud above it was cleared away and the damaged upper layer of amphorae was removed piece by piece, after which the team began removing the undamaged amphorae below them. Once all of the artefacts have been retrieved, the hull of the ship will be given to İstanbul University.

It is thought that bronze nails were used in ship construction starting in the fourth or fifth century, prior to which they only used wooden pegs

The bronze nails found on the ship give clues about the age of the vessel and makes it an outstanding sample. It is thought that bronze nails were used in ship construction starting in the fourth or fifth century, prior to which they only used wooden pegs. Information about the destination of the ship and perhaps even it’s home port will be inferred by means of the artefacts found onboard.

The Port of Theodosius
The archaeological excavations of the fourth century port of Theodosius at the Yenikapı Marmaray construction site started back in 2004 and since then, 40,000 artefacts have been registered, while over 150,000 pieces are still being being studied.

To date, 35 wrecked ships that sank between the fifth and 11th centuries CE have been uncovered, 30 are merchant vessels equipped with sails, while the rest are oared galleys. The dig at Yenikapı features the largest number of shipwrecks discovered in any one location anywhere in the world, with a team of 45 archaeologists and a further 265 staff members, consisting of architects and art historians still working at the excavation site.

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