Case study: the discovery of an old Byzantine harbour in Istanbul
Elif Batuman “The Big Dig – Istanbul’s city planners have a problem: too much history”. The New Yorker, 31 August 2015The scale of the contribution of these findings to historical knowledge did not prevent the rise of tensions. Major stakes were behind this railway project. First the major congestion issues in the large metropolis of Istanbul. Before the opening of the Marmaray, two million people were moving from and to the Asian and the European shores of Istanbul daily, over the two bridges and by ferries. Second, the then-prime minister of the country personally complained against the archaeological works that were delaying what he considered as his project and insisted for the inauguration of the project to take place on the 90th anniversary of the creation of the Republic of Turkey, on 29 October 2013. Dr Elif Batuman underlines the tensions between two time horizons: that of the daily commuters, who would be gaining time thanks to the Marmaray, and that of the archaeologists who would need decades to properly unveil the millenaries of history lying in the ground.“ … the real problem was the large number of Byzantine shipwrecks that began to surface soon after the excavation began, in 2004. Dating from the fifth to the eleventh century, the shipwrecks illustrated a previously murky chapter in the history of shipbuilding and were exceptionally well preserved, having apparently been buried in sand during a series of natural disasters. In accordance with Turkish law, control of the site shifted to the museum, and use of mechanical tools was suspended. From 2005 to 2013, workers with shovels and wheelbarrows extracted a total of thirty-seven shipwrecks. When the excavation reached what had been the bottom of the sea, the archaeologists announced that they could finally cede part of the site to the engineers, after one last survey of the seabed —just a formality, really, to make sure they hadn’t missed anything. That’s when they found the remains of a Neolithic dwelling, dating from around 6000 B.C. It was previously unknown that anyone had lived on the site of the old city before around 1300 B.C. The excavators, attempting to avoid traces of Istanbul’s human history, had ended up finding an extra five thousand years of it. It took five years to excavate the Neolithic layer, which yielded up graves, huts, cultivated farmland, wooden tools, and some two thousand human footprints, miraculously preserved in a layer of silt-covered mud.”
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Cultural Heritage and the City
Cultural Heritage and the City
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