Archaeology Magazine Archive

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When do you say a site was "discovered" and what do you do if the "site" is an entire landscape, of more than 8 square kilometers, with different sites from different periods? We unfortunately all know the phrase "too big to fail," well this huge archaeological site in Istanbul is simply "too big to classify." This past summer saw an extensive survey just to get a base line understanding of what's there. Work here is headed up by Sengul Aydingun (Kocaeli University), but involves researchers from various Turkish and international universities. They'll be busy here for quite a while to judge by the summer's results.

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A portion of seawall and column capital (Courtesy Sengul Aydingun)

The main portion of the site is a peninsula that juts out into the Küçükçekmece lagoon, now separated from the Sea of Marmara by a narrow strip of land, except for a narrow channel, but more open to it in the past. But there are more remains on the surrounding shores of the lagoon and in the lagoon itself (which explains why seagulls seem to stand on the water a few hundred yards offshore--they're actually standing on what is likely the base of an ancient lighthouse). The classical period remains include two harbor installations and kilometers of seawall. The larger harbor, with a long breakwater and the lighthouse, may date to about the 4th century B.C. It was clearly an important port. Later remains include Hellenistic pottery and a 2nd-century B.C. Corinthian column capital, evidence of a major building from that period. There's an impressive, wide and well-paved Roman roadway the excavators believe is part of the imperial Via Egnatia, one of the empire's main arteries. They have identified a necropolis and likely residential areas, plus possible villa remains on the eastern shore of the lagoon. Enough of the classical remains--basically it's a whole harbor town--there is more.

At one place on the peninsula, designated A6, there is a wide scatter of flint cobbles and tools. The artifacts look similar to those from the central Anatolian late Pre-Pottery Neolithic B, which began around 9500 B.C. If they prove to be from that culture, the date and the site's proximity to the Asian shore means this site at Küçükçekmece could be one of the earliest farming communities settled by people moving from Anatolia into Europe. Pretty amazing. When you consider the setting, these finds are all the more remarkable.

Küçükçekmece is just 20 km from downtown Istanbul, which is Europe's largest city and is growing very rapidly. How has this rich archaeological landscape escaped both being developed before now and being recognized as so important? The land is currently farmed, so perhaps it was just a case of being hidden in plain sight. Perhaps consideration should be given to converting the entire area into an archaeological park. That would be a great precedent.

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