03 May 2011

Research notes: Istanbul

I'm in Turkey this month, doing research with some colleagues from Bologna on how cultural heritage here is organized, administered, and funded. I'll be blogging a little less than usual, but I'll share some reflections on our research as I'm able.
The vast excavation area at Yenikapı
One of our case studies is the excavations at Yenikapı, the hub station for the Marmaray metro that will connect the European and Asian sides of Istanbul under the Bosphorus. The Japanese-Turkish consortium building the subway thought that they had picked a clever spot outside of the archaeological zone of the ancient city - but as they excavated they found a Byzantine port with 32 well-preserved shipwrecks dating from the 5th-11th centuries! Many of them sunk with their cargos abord. This video from NatGeo is a good introduction (they don't allow embeds).

Look at these cool-ass shipwrecks!
Salvage excavations at the site are winding up after 5 years, and we're looking forward to learning more about the history of the project, which has been the largest urban archaeology project in Turkey's history. Funded by the construction subcontractors of the subway project, the archaeological work was supervised by the Istanbul Archaeology Museum with cooperation from Istanbul University, Texas A&M, and many other institutions.

Oh, and they found some 8,500 year old burials, extending the earliest known settlement of the city by a couple thousand years!

Salvage archaeology in an urban setting is pretty different from the Indiana Jones stereotype. It's more of an industrial operation, with huge tensions between construction companies (who live and die by deadlines) and archaeologists (who would much rather take their time and not think about money). What we're going to be doing is reconstructing the administration of the project: its organization, funding, history, controversies, and aftermath (what are they going to do with all those boats?!). It should be fun. I'll keep you posted.


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