Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Ships of Yenikapi

Over the past five years archaeologists have excavated 37 Byzantine ships from a site in Istanbul known as Yenikapi Marmaray. This was an old harbor, long filled in, and now being dug up for a subway tunnel under the Bosporus. The ships date to the 5th through 11th centuries. Above is a cargo vessel of the 5th century.

Two views of the vessel known as Y14, a 9th-century cargo ship. A summary of the finds:
Of the eight ships that the researchers examined for the report, six were classified as "round ships," which means that they were propelled primarily or entirely by sail. The length of the round ships ranged from 26 to 48 feet (8 to 14.7 meters), and they were between 8 and 16 feet (2.5 and 5 m) wide.

The other two ships the researchers examined were galleys — long, oared ships, about 100 feet (30 m) long and 13 feet (4 m) wide. Among all of the 37 shipwrecks discovered at Yenikapi, there were a total of six Byzantine galleys, "notably the first shipwrecks of this type discovered from the Byzantine period," the researchers wrote in their report.

Overview of the excavations. The harbor here was built (or improved, anyway) by the Emperor Theodosius I (379-393). At first it served large ships, but it progressively silted up and for most of its history it was used by small ships and boats.

Views of the harbor floor as exposed in the excavations. What an astonishing mass of medieval pottery. It occurs to me that with so much trash being thrown into the harbor it is probably not possible to identify the contents of any of the sunken ships.

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