A rare 2,300-year-old tomb in Istanbul holds a partially cremated body
A 2,300-year-old brick tomb contains the cremated remains of an individual whose body was likely placed in the tomb and then set on fire, archaeologists in Istanbul have announced. A tomb-like this is a rare find, archaeologists say.
At the time this person was buried, the area was known as Chalcedon, then a flourishing city during the Hellenistic era. The tomb, which contains the cremated remains of at least one person, was found at the Haydarpaşa Train Station in Istanbul.
Archaeologists also found a terracotta goblet and a perfume bottle within it, Rahmi Asal, director of the Istanbul Archaeological Museums, told the Turkish government-owned Anadolu Agency.
“This is very valuable. It is one of the oldest finds in this area,” Asal told the news agency, adding that “perhaps this will give us many more valuable insights” into the area’s past.
The excavation was carried out prior to the renovation and expansion of the railway system in the region and has unearthed remains throughout Istanbul’s history.
Although the individual’s body was buried inside the tomb, some of the bones survived, a preliminary analysis revealed. “I have never seen this type of a cremation tomb from the Hellenistic period,” Asal said.
At the time the tomb was built, Chalcedon was a thriving city. “Chalcedon was a powerful player in international politics,” Noah Kaye, an assistant professor of history at Michigan State University who is not involved with the new excavation, told Live Science in an email.
Kaye noted that between 235 B.C and 220 B.C., Chalcedon, along with Byzantion (a nearby city), levied heavy tolls on ships passing through the Bosphorus strait, which separates Asia from Europe, into the Black Sea.
The cities extracted the tolls with the help of Egypt’s navy, which was then under the control of the Ptolemaic dynasty.
Despite Chalcedon’s success at the time, some ancient writers referred to Chalcedon as the “land of the blind” because there were other supposedly other areas nearby that were better suited for a city.
In the fourth century A.D., the Roman emperor Constantine founded Constantinople, a city that would eventually engulf both Byzantion and Chalcedon and become the centre of the Byzantine Empire.
The discovery of the tomb may help shed light on what Chalcedon was like, Felix Pirson, director of the German Archaeological Institute’s Istanbul branch, told Live Science in an email. “It looks like a very important discovery indeed,” Pirson said, noting that we know little about what this area was like before Constantinople was founded.
“More information about burial customs and funerary culture in general, which sheds a light on crucial topics such as social differentiation or identities, is of utmost importance,” said Pirson, who was not involved in the discovery of the tomb.
An underground city unearthed in Turkey may have been a refuge for early Christians
Archaeologists in southeastern Turkey have unearthed a vast underground city that was built almost 2,000 years ago and could have been home to up to 70,000 people. The subterranean complex may have been a protected space that early Christians used to escape Roman persecution.
The first underground chambers of the ancient complex were found about two years ago, during a project to clean and conserve historical streets and houses in the Midyat district of Mardin province.
Workers on the project first discovered a limestone cave, and then a passage into the rest of the hidden city, Gani Tarkan, the director of the Mardin Museum and the head of the excavations, told the Turkish government-owned Anadolu Agency. That said, some of the local people had already known that there were caves below Midyat, but had not known there was an entirely underground city, Tarkan told Live Science in an email.
Now, 49 chambers have been unearthed in the colossal complex, as well as connecting passages, water wells, grain storage silos, the rooms of homes, and places of worship, including a Christian church and a large hall with a Star of David symbol on the wall, which appears to be a Jewish synagogue.
Artefacts found in the caverns — including Roman-era coins and oil lamps — indicate that the subterranean complex was built sometime in the second or third centuries A.D, Tarkan told Live Science.
And there is still a large area to excavate. Tarkan estimates that less than 5% of the underground city, now known as Matiate, has been explored so far — an area of over 100,000 square feet (10,000 square m). He thinks the entire complex may be larger than 4 million square feet (400,000 square m) in the area and would have been large enough to accommodate between 60,000 and 70,000 people.
It’s possible that the city originally served as a refuge: “It was first built as a hiding place or escape area,” he suggested.
“Christianity was not an official religion in the second century [and] families and groups who accepted Christianity generally took shelter in underground cities to escape the persecution of Rome,” Tarkan said. “Possibly, the underground city of Midyat was one of the living spaces built for this purpose.”
Ancient geographers wrote that the southern region of what is now Turkey was inhabited by Christians before its more central parts and that Christians in the area were heavily persecuted, not only by the Romans but also by the Persians in the fourth century, he told Live Science.
Medieval travellers in the region at times of war also reported that they’d found entire towns and cities completely empty of inhabitants, and so it was possible the inhabitants had in fact hidden underground in places like Matiate, he said.
In the early first century A.D., Roman officials did not distinguish between Jews and Christians, because many early Christians were also Jews. But that changed in A.D. 64 when Emperor Nero blamed and then killed Christians for a fire that swept through Rome, according to Britannica. Although the persecutions were sporadic, they continued until the early fourth century; and while the numbers are debated, it’s likely that thousands of Christians were executed during this time. In A.D. 313, however, Emperor Constantine issued the Edict of Milan, making Christianity legal and ending the persecutions; and in 380 Emperor Theodosius issued the Edict of Thessalonica, making it the official religion of the Roman Empire.
Lozan Bayar, an archaeologist with Mardin’s Office for Protection and Supervision, agreed that Matiate might have been used by early Christians to escape Roman persecution.
“In the early period of Christianity, Rome was under the influence of pagans before later recognizing Christianity as an official religion,” he told Hürriyet Daily News, a Turkish news outlet. Such underground cities provided security to people and they also performed their prayers there. They were also places of escape.”
The ancient city of Midyat above the subterranean complex was likely first built by the Hurrians, a people who occupied parts of central and southern Anatolia (in present-day Turkey) up to 4,000 years ago, during the Bronze Age. The city first appears in Assyrian records in the ninth century B.C. as “Matiate” — a name that meant “city of caves,” possibly because there are many limestone caves nearby — the name that has now been assigned to the underground city.
Midyat was occupied, in turn, by Arameans, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines and Ottomans during its long history, with each civilization building on the work of the last. As a result, Midyat is now well-known for its ancient architecture, and it draws up to 3 million tourists every year, according to Hürriyet Daily News. More than 100 traditional houses near the city’s centre are now protected because of their historical significance, and nine churches and monasteries in the city are listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Tarkan thinks the hidden city of Matiate will be an additional attraction when the excavations are completed.” While the houses on the top are dated to the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, there is a completely different city underneath,” he said. “That city is 1,900 years old.”
The tradition of building homes and cities underground is well established in Turkey. More than 40 ancient subterranean cities have been found there, including Derinkuyu — an enormous complex in the central Cappadocia region that was burrowed into soft volcanic rock, possibly by the Anatolian people known as the Phrygians in the eighth and ninth centuries B.C.
Derinkuyu was large enough to hold 20,000 people, and was occupied until the medieval period: for example, Byzantine Christians and Jews used it as a refuge during Arab invasions between the eighth and 12th centuries A.D. Science writer Will Hunt, author of the book “Underground: A Human History of the World’s Beneath Our Feet” (Random House, 2019) said there were many stories of people in what is now Turkey who had found holes in their land, or sometimes right inside their homes, that opened up to sprawling warrens of human-made tunnels.
“Some go down more than 10 levels and have space for tens of thousands of people,” he told Live Science in an email. “They are like upside-down castles.”
Hunt echoes Tarkan’s suggestion that the underground structures at Matiate may have been used in defence. “Beneath any settlement, there would have been an underground city, where people would take cover when they were under attack,” he said.
And it wasn’t just in Turkey: “all over the world, throughout history, whenever there is a threat on the surface, people have dark underground [spaces] to protect themselves from danger,” he said. “It’s practically instinctual.”
Major discovery: Iron Age complex found under a house in Turkey village, says study
A bungled looting scheme has led archaeologists to an underground Iron Age complex in Turkey that may have been used by a fertility cult during the first millennium B.C., a new study finds.
The ancient complex, which has yet to be fully investigated due to the instability of the structure, has rare rock art drawings on its walls featuring a procession of deities depicted in an Assyrian style.
This art style appears to have been adopted by local groups, indicating how strongly the culture of the Neo-Assyrian Empire — which hailed from Mesopotamia and later expanded into Anatolia — spread to the people it conquered in this region, according to the new study, published online May 11 in the journal Antiquity.
“The finding bears witness to the exercise of Assyrian hegemony in the region in its early phases,” one of the study’s authors Selim Ferruh Adalı, an associate professor of ancient history at the Social Sciences University of Ankara, told Live Science in an email.
“The wall panel contains a depiction of the divine procession with previously unknown elements, with Aramaic writing to describe some of the deities while combining Neo-Assyrian, Aramaean and Syro-Anatolian divine iconography.”
Authorities learned about the ancient underground complex in 2017 after looters discovered it beneath a house in a Turkish village and decided to target its treasures. However, police foiled the looters, and investigating officials soon found an artificial opening the looters had cut through the floor of the two-story house in the village of Başbük, in southern Turkey.
This discovery prompted the police to notify the Şanlıurfa Archaeological Museum, whose archaeologists determined that the opening, which measured about 7 by 5 feet (2.2 by 1.5 meters), led to an entrance chamber, carved out of the limestone bedrock, in the underground complex.
The subterranean complex dates to the early Neo-Assyrian period (around the ninth century B.C.) and features an upper and lower gallery, as well as the entrance chamber. The original opening to the entrance chamber has not yet been found.
Museum experts carried out the rescue excavation in August and September of 2018, Adalı said. However, they suspended the rescue excavation after two months because of the instability of the site. The area is now under the legal protection of Turkey’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism.
During the short period of excavation, archaeologists removed sediment that had fallen due to erosion in the underground spaces, which revealed a decorative rock relief carved into a wall panel.
The panel depicts a procession of gods and goddesses from the Aramean pantheon, some with Aramaic inscriptions next to them.
The excavators sent photos of the inscriptions on the panel to Adalı, who found that the panel had great historical significance.
The expansion of the Neo-Assyrian Empire into what is now Turkey inspired a cultural revolution, as the Assyrian elite used art from their courtly style to express their power over the local Luwian- and Aramaic-speaking peoples.
The wall panel in Başbük shows how Assyrian art was adapted into the Aramaean style in the provincial towns and villages, the researchers found.
Four of the eight deities depicted on the panel could not be identified, according to the study. The Aramaic inscriptions label three of the gods: the storm, rain and thunder god Hadad; his consort Atargatis, a goddess of fertility and protection; the moon god Sîn; and the sun god Šamaš. The drawing of Atargatis is the earliest known depiction of this goddess, the principal goddess of Syria, in this region, the researchers added.
“The inclusion of Syro-Anatolian religious themes illustrate an adaptation of Neo-Assyrian elements in ways that one did not expect from earlier finds, Adalı said in a statement, “They reflect an earlier phase of Assyrian presence in the region when local elements were more emphasized.”
The deities on the wall panel suggest that it was “the locus for a regional fertility cult of Syro-Anatolian and Aramaean deities with rituals overseen by early Neo-Assyrian authorities,” Adalı told Live Science. One of those authorities might have been Mukīn-abūa, a Neo-Assyrian official who lived during the reign of the Assyrian king Adad-nirari III (811 B.C. to 783 B.C.). The researchers identified an inscription that might refer to Mukīn-abūa. It’s possible that Mukīn-abūa took control of the region, and that he used this complex to integrate with and win over locals, the researchers said.
Meanwhile, the presence of Neo-Assyrian art in this complex doesn’t necessarily mean that the empire’s artists created this panel. Rather, it’s likely that “the panel was made by local artists serving Assyrian authorities who adapted Neo-Assyrian art in a provincial context,” Adalı said.
He added that the team suspects further excavations will uncover more areas of the underground complex and possibly yield more examples of artwork, as only a small part of the whole site has been explored so far. A full-scale excavation is expected to take place when the entirety of the site has been prepared, according to the procedures of Turkish cultural heritage laws.
Remains of a man and dog trying to escape an ancient tsunami found on the Aegean coast
The remains of a young man and a dog who were killed by a tsunami triggered by the eruption of the Thera volcano 3,600 years ago have been unearthed in Turkey. Archaeologists found the pair of skeletons during excavations at Çeşme-Bağlararası, a Late Bronze Age site near Çeşme Bay, on Turkey’s western coastline.
Despite the eruption of Thera being one of the largest natural disasters in recorded history, this is the first time the remains of victims of the event have been unearthed.
Moreover, the presence of the tsunami deposits at Çeşme-Bağlararası show that large and destructive waves did arrive in the northern Aegean after Thera went up.
Previously, based on the evidence available, it had been assumed that this area of the Mediterranean only received ash fallout from the eruption of Thera.
Instead, it now appears that the Çeşme Bay area was struck by a sequence of tsunamis, devastating local settlements and leading to rescue efforts.
Thera — now a caldera at the centre of the Greek island of Santorini — is famous for how its tsunamis are thought to have ended the Minoan civilisation on nearby Crete.
Based on radiocarbon dating of the tsunami deposits at Çeşme-Bağlararası, the team believe that the volcano’s eruption occurred no earlier than 1612 BC.
The study was undertaken by archaeologist Vasıf Şahoğlu of the University of Ankara and his colleagues.
‘The Late Bronze Age Thera eruption was one of the largest natural disasters witnessed in human history,’ the researchers wrote in their paper.
‘Its impact, consequences, and timing have dominated the discourse of ancient Mediterranean studies for nearly a century.
‘Despite the eruption’s high intensity and tsunami-generating capabilities, few tsunami deposits [have been] reported.
‘In contrast, descriptions of pumice, ash, and tephra deposits are widely published.’
Amid stratified sediments at the Çeşme-Bağlararası site, the researchers found the remains of damaged walls — once part of a fortification of some kind — alongside layers of rubble and chaotic sediments characteristic of tsunami deposits.
Within these were two layers of volcanic ash, the second thicker than the first, and a bone-rich layer containing charcoal and other charred remains.
According to the team, the deposits represent at least four consecutive tsunami inundations, each separate but nevertheless resulting from the eruption at Thera.
Tsunami deposits associated with the eruption are relatively rare — with three found near the northern coastline of Crete and another three along Turkey’s coast, albeit much further south than Çeşme-Bağlararası.
Traces of misshapen pits dug into the tsunami sediments at various places across the Çeşme-Bağlararası site represent, the researchers believe, an ‘effort to retrieve victims from the tsunami debris.’
‘The human skeleton was located about a meter below such a pit, suggesting that it was too deep to be found and retrieved and therefore (probably unknowingly) left behind,’ they added.
‘It is also in the lowest part of the deposit, characterized throughout the debris field by the largest and heaviest stones (some larger than 40 cm [16 inches] diameter), further complicating any retrieval effort.’
The young man’s skeleton — which shows the characteristic signatures of having been swept along by a debris flow — was found up against the most badly damaged portion of the fortification wall, which the team believe failed during the tsunami.
During the demolition work, a 2,500-year-old bull heads alto relievo was discovered in Sinop
During the demolition work of the buildings in front of the historical city walls for the City Square National Garden project in the province of Sinop on the Black Sea coast of Turkey, 2,500-year-old bull heads shaped alto-relievo were found.
According to the news of Gökhan Güçlüoğlu from Anadolu Agency, the demolition of the buildings in front of the historical city walls continues within the scope of the City Square Nation Garden Project implemented by the Ministry of Environment, Urbanization and Climate Change in the Sinop.
Within the framework of the demolitions that started on December 16, 2021, the demolition of five buildings, including the service building of Sinop Municipality, has been completed so far.
With the demolition of the structures within the scope of the project, which aims to bring the historical castle walls to tourism, a 2,500-year-old bullhead alto-relievo embroidered on the castle wall was also unearthed.
It is estimated that the relief carved on the castle wall consisting of four bullheads was designed as a symbol of power in ancient times.
What is the alto-relievo?
Relief, also called relievo, in sculpture, is any work in which the figures project from a supporting background, usually a plane surface.
Reliefs are classified according to the height of the figures’ projection or detachment from the background.
In a high relief, or alto-relievo, the forms project at least half or more of their natural circumference from the background and may in parts be completely disengaged from the ground, thus approximating sculpture in the round.
Unprecedented 1800-year-old marble bathtub recovered in Turkey
The 1800-year-old marble bathtub, which was seized when it was about to be sold by historical artefact smugglers in Aydın’s Karacasu district, was delivered to the Aphrodisias Museum Directorate. Experts stated that the 1-ton marble bathtub with reliefs of the lion’s head is not similar in Turkey.
The 1800-year-old marble bathtub, which was seized when it was about to be sold, during the operation carried out by the gendarmerie on March 31 against historical artefact smugglers, weighs 1 tonne and is 1 meter 80 centimetres long.
There are lion head reliefs on the right and left sides of the tub, and these reliefs represent power and power.
Experts pointed out that it was evaluated that the bathtub may have been used by a state administrator or a wealthy business person.
In the research, it was stated that the work, which stands out as the only bathtub made of marble among the bathtubs found so far, has no analogues in Turkey.
Aydın Provincial Culture and Tourism Director Umut Tuncer said, “The ancient city of Aphrodisias was one of the richest cities of its time.
We think that the marble bathtub is an important part of the history of this city, which dates back to the 1st century BC. This bathtub, which is about 1800 years old, is one of the rare examples in the world because it is completely marbled.”
“There are bathtubs created with various mud layers that have been found in Turkey before, but this completely marble structure actually expresses the wealth of this region and the welfare society of the period.”
Aphrodisias was an important city on its own like other Roman and Byzantine cities. Aphrodisias was surrounded by fertile soil to grow all kinds of nutrients and was the first city of the era. In addition, it had the sleek wall and cotton industries, advanced commercial, political, religious, and cultural institutions, great art and painting tradition, philosophy, and a world-famous school of sculpture.
In ancient times, Aphrodisias was actually quite famous for its expert sculptors, high-quality marble statues, and an important sculpture workshop that was uncovered during excavations. Marble quarries near the city were an important factor in Aphrodisias becoming a leading centre of arts.
In the 4th-6th centuries AD, Aphrodisian sculptors were in high demand to produce marble busts and statues for important individuals in the Roman Empire.
Their products were considered the best marble statues of the time and were displayed in major cities such as Rome, Constantinople, Sardis, Laodikeia, and Stratonikeia. Surviving works of Aphrodisian sculptors include Hadrian’s Villa at Tivoli.
Turkish experts find 4 Umayyad epigraphs in the ancient city Knidos
Four inscriptions made of marble and limestone from the Umayyad period have been unearthed during the archaeological excavations in the ancient city of Knidos in the western province of Muğla’s Datça district.
The excavations have been carried out in the ancient city under the direction of Professor Ertekin Doksanaltı from Selçuk University’s Archaeology Department, with a team of 40 people consisting of geologists, architects, restorers, art historians, biologists, anthropologists, and excavation workers.
Four inscriptions were determined to belong to the Umayyads, who ruled in the city of Knidos between 685 and 711.
It has been determined that the names of tribes that would participate in the Umayyad expedition to Istanbul, as well as commanders and administrators, are written on the four inscriptions found during the excavations.
Doksanaltı said that excavations have been carried out since 2016 in the ancient city of Knidos within the framework of the 12-month excavation project of the Culture and Tourism Ministry.
Stating that amazing archaeological discoveries were made during the excavations, Doksanaltı said: “On the first day of Ramadan, Knidos presented us with a beautiful gift. Four new Umayyad inscriptions were unearthed during the archaeological excavations.
These inscriptions, which are the largest remains of early Islam in Western Anatolia, contain names of tribes, commanders, and rulers who participated in two of the three expeditions organized by the Umayyads to Istanbul.
Knidos, which offers many new data from the ancient period, showed how important it can be in terms of Islamic historiography with its data that will shed light on the early periods of Islam.”
Stating that the inscriptions vary in length from 15 centimetres to 1 meter, Doksanaltı said that the examinations continue on the artefacts.
Founded by Greek settlers, Knidos became an important cultural and political centre after the fifth century B.C. because of being a busy trading hub in the region.
The city was also famed for its association with Aphrodite and for its famous statue of the goddess, sculpted by Praxiteles of Athens.
Cats and babies: Thousand-year-old mummies in Turkey’s Aksaray
Cat, baby and adult mummies in Aksaray, the gateway to Cappadocia with its historical cultural riches and known as the first settlement of Central Anatolia, have been enchanting visitors at a museum where they are on display.
At the Aksaray Museum, which houses Turkey’s first and only mummy section, there stands on display a total of 13 mummies, consisting of cats, babies and adult humans from the 10th, 11th and 12th centuries unearthed in excavations in and around Aksaray.
Aksaray Museum Director Yusuf Altın provided information on the mummies, which are preserved in showcases with special heating and cooling systems.
“With 13 mummies in our Aksaray Museum, we are the only museum in Turkey with a mummy section,” Altın said. “There is one mummy in each of the Amasya and Niğde Museums, but our museum has the only section exhibited in this way … in our country.”
“The mummies in our museum were found as a result of the excavations in the churches in Ihlara Valley. Some of our mummies were found in the churches built about a thousand years ago in Çanlı Church,” he stated.
Altın pointed out that the embalming technique in Turkey was different compared to Egypt.
“Of these mummies, the baby mummy is very technical work in itself. Because the mummification technique in our country is different from the mummification technique in Egypt.
In this technique, after the person dies, the internal organs of the corpse are removed, the wax is melted and the corpse is covered with a layer of glaze. Then it is covered with fabric and shroud.
It is buried in the ground in this way and the corpse remains preserved for centuries after it dries. We bring our mummies from these excavations to our museum and exhibit them. In particular, we also exhibit the embroideries of necklaces, booties and shrouds on them.”
Yusuf stated that a cat loved by its owner was also preserved with the mummification technique and that a cat mummy was found during the excavation efforts.
“We have another mummy, the cat mummy, which especially attracts the attention of our children.
Our cat mummy was covered with wax and preserved, probably because it was loved by its owner. So, we have been displaying it in our museum,” he said.
“All of our mummies are from the 10th, 11th and 12th centuries. So, they are almost a thousand years old.”