Two skeletons dating back 8,500 years, making them the oldest ever found in what is now Turkey, have been discovered during archaeological excavations in Istanbul’s Yenikapı area.
“Such remains have not been discovered during the excavation before; these are the oldest graves in Anatolia,” said Dr. Yasemin Yılmaz, an expert on anthropology and prehistory, who expressed excitement about the find.
According to Yılmaz, the use of wooden blocks – preserved to this day – to cover the coffins makes them distinctive from other finds.
Since the archaeology excavations around Yenikapı, the site of the ongoing construction on the Marmaray tunnel underneath the Marmara Sea, started in 2004, many shipwrecks, amphoras, cemeteries and around 40,000 artifacts have been uncovered in the area.
Several archaeologists have collaborated with some 200 workers to carefully excavate a 60,000-square-meter area where many traces of human history have been discovered 16 meters belowground and nine meters below sea level. The two ancient coffins were found 40 days ago but only revealed recently by the excavation team.
The find was the first time a coffin was found together with its wooden cover within the city walls, said Sırrı Çömlekçi, who is leading the Marmaray excavations. Typically, cut wood decays in around 15 to 20 years, but these samples have lasted for more than eight millennia thanks to a black clay material that has preserved them to the present day, said the archaeologist.
“We can clearly say that the artifacts found next to the graves date back to 6500 B.C. These coffins also date back to the same period. Their exact age will be revealed using carbon-14 dating. After DNA tests are applied, we will find out from where these people came to Anatolia and learn information about their roots,” Çömlekçi said.
Work in the excavation area, covered with white tents, is being conducted with major and fastidious research. Archaeologists sitting beneath a huge tree use cotton buds to clean the clay and mud from a skeleton.
“Istanbul is said to have a 2,500-year-old history. With the Marmaray excavations, we have revealed that Istanbul has an 8,000-year-old history,” Çömlekçi said. “This is the biggest open-air excavation. There is no such research in any other place. The artifacts being found here illustrate the richness of the history of Istanbul and Anatolia.”
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