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Treasures Beneath Turkish Seas
2002 / September

It is thought that sails were invented by the Egyptians around 3400 BC. Harnessing wind power for sea transport was a crucial factor in the development of civilisation, enabling Egyptian sailors to carry the timber they needed from the thickly forested coasts of Lebanon, and later taking them to Cyprus where there were plentiful deposits of copper, and to the coasts of Anatolia. Trade began to flourish in the eastern Mediterranean, but of the thousands of ships which came and went from Anatolian harbours, some were inevitably wrecked in storms. The ships and cargoes which sank to the seabed over the centuries are today providing illuminating evidence about maritime and commercial history. Since the first underwater excavations were carried out in Turkish coastal waters in 1960, much has been discovered about shipbuilding technology in antiquity and the commodities the ships were carrying.

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Treasures Beneath Turkish Seas
2002 / September

Undoubtedly the most important wreck excavated so far is the Uluburun Wreck, which is the earliest of all, dating from the late Bronze Age. This ship sunk 3300 years ago, and is accounted one of the most important ten archaeological discoveries of the 20th century by archaeologists. The gold seal of Queen Nefertiti and a two-leaf wooden book, the oldest book in the world, are among the hundreds of remarkable finds. With a total of nine underwater archaeological excavations so far, Turkey is the leading country in this field. Turkey's coastline totals 8300 kilometres, and there are thought to be thousands of ancient wrecks waiting to reveal their secrets. The object of the Underwater Treasures of Anatolia project that I launched two years ago is to track down all the wrecks around Turkey's coasts, photograph them, and build a database for the information gathered. This is not an archaeological project and does not involve any excavations.

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Treasures Beneath Turkish Seas
2002 / September
During 2001 we documented the remains of a wreck west of Sigacik, where in 1996 the Tektas wreck was discovered. This particular spot in the Aegean has been compared to the Bermuda Triangle. There are a dozen wrecks along this 2 kilometre stretch of coast, the youngest being a 19th century Ottoman ship named the Inayet. We commenced work in the middle of August, beginning with a wreck dating from the 4th century BC located at the easternmost point of this dangerous patch of sea. The ship had been wrecked on the rocks here, and although there was no trace of the timbers of the ship itself, the amphoras which it had been carrying were fused to the sea bed. After photographing the amphoras we searched the sandy bottom around the rocks but found nothing else. So we headed for the so-called Church Wreck, which was loaded with sufficient marble slabs, columns and capitals to build a small church.
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Treasures Beneath Turkish Seas
2002 / September
Careful examination of the badly eroded capitals revealed crosses. Almost certainly a city in the area had given an order to a marble quarry for the materials needed for a new church, but the boat had for some reason been wrecked like so many others before it. Nearby the Church Wreck was another Byzantine wreck, this time with a load of millstones, over thirty of which were scattered in groups of three and four on the sand, beneath which the ship itself was probably lying. The stones averaged 110 centimetres in diameter. Amongst them were a few amphoras, probably carrying provisions for the sailors, and six iron anchors. The most exciting of the wrecks in the area which we examined dated from the 1st century AD, and is known as the Roman Period Marble Column Wreck.
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Treasures Beneath Turkish Seas
2002 / September
The distance of this wreck from the shore, its depth just at the limit for diving with air tanks and the difficult currents made its exploration long and laborious. Like the others, only the load was visible on the sand. Probably the ship's timbers had been crushed and buried beneath the sand under the weight of the water and its own load, which consisted of eight gigantic marble column drums, a column plinth and marble slabs. We measured the drums carefully and discovered that they were graduated in size and would have formed a tapering column that must have been intended for a large temple. There is no way of knowing which ancient city the column was being transported to, Didyma, Miletus and Priene all being possible destinations. The project will continue over the years ahead, not only in the sea but in the ancient harbours and cities along the Aegean coast.
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Treasures Beneath Turkish Seas
2002 / September

Perhaps our future work will enable us to unravel the secrets of the other ships which sank in the Bermuda Triangle of the Aegean.

* Tufan Turanli is a sea captain and underwater researcher.


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