The conservation of four of the 37 sunken ships raised from Yenikapı, one of the most important excavations in the world in the field of port archeology, has been completed and the ships are ready to be exhibited at a museum.
Considered the world’s largest ancient ship collection, each of the shipwrecks will be cleaned from sea salt for the next five years in 45 pools with chemicals created by Istanbul University (İÜ) in Yenikapı.
Each wooden piece of from the shipwrecks has been transferred to a 3D digital environment for digital documentation work. During this process, every detail on the wooden materials is being documented. Then, the wooden pieces are frozen in freeze dryers for longer preservation. This process takes at least six months.
The conservation of a wreck is completed in six to nine years before it is ready to be exhibited in a museum.
The Theodosius Port and the 37 shipwrecks in it are the world’s largest Middle Age ship collection and they were discovered in 2005 during the excavations for Marmaray, said Head of the İÜ Conservation and Restoration of Movable Cultural Heritage Department Professor Ufuk Kocabaş.
Kocabaş said the excavations of all layers, including the Neolithic age, were completed in 2013 and İÜ undertook in the removal, documentation, protection and conservation of 27 out of 37 wrecks.
He said the conservation of four ships were carried out at the Bodrum Underwater Archaeology Institute by Texas A&M University experts.
“As the İÜ team, we have been working in two laboratories near the Marmaray metro station since 2013. The shipwrecks are under protection in 45 pools. In the first stage, they were removed from sea salt. Then the conservation chemicals began to form. At the end of the work, the wrecks will be exhibited in a museum,” he said.
Kocabaş said they used high technology tools for their conservation.
“We use a high-tech device called freeze dryer. This way, we save 50 percent of conservation chemicals and shorten the time,” said the professor.
Works for museum should start
“Some of the ships were found with their cargo. They reflect all features of their era. Therefore, we have done our best to apply all requirements of underwater archaeology. We aim to establish a museum through our work. The relevant institutes should begin as soon as possible because the ships that are ready need a museum to be displayed or kept,” said the professor.
He said they were working on many ships at the same time.
“This time takes up to 20 years in Europe. I hope all of the 37 shipwrecks can be exhibited at one museum. This is what we want,” said Kocabaş.
Kocabaş said the conservation of four Yenikapı shipwrecks were completed.
“If a museum is established, we are able to exhibit them. But there must be a final place, because the majority of these ships will not be in a condition to be moved from one place to another. They need to be exhibited in a museum with air conditioning, light system and heat control so we can transfer them to future generations,” he said.
I believe the time has come for the museum. We know all projects related to the museum have been completed and the permits for the necessary institutions have been received. I hope the construction starts as soon as possible,” said the professor.
In addition to the main discipline experts, Kocabaş said the laboratory has 10 trainee students working three days a week and graduate and doctoral students have also taken part in the studies.
New door to our understanding of history
Kocabaş said the port of Theodosius where the excavations were carried out was the port of the capital of an empire.
“The underwater remains are very well preserved. We have encountered works of high quality that could not be encountered in land excavations. Yenikapı opened a new door to our understanding of the past; it keeps very well-protected ships and incredible information,” he said.
“We are also working on ancient shipbuilding technology. There are galleys among wrecks. These are the galleys that were found for the first time in an archaeological excavation in the Byzantine era. They are thin and long ships and were used in the navy. The seating arrangements of the oarsmen and their distance with each other were the subjects that were always discussed,” the professor said.
As the excavations continued, the findings would shed light on the earlier periods of Istanbul, Kocabaş said, adding that the remains of a village settlement dating back to the Neolithic period were also uncovered.
He said Istanbul’s foundation had always been believed to be 2,700 years ago but the excavations pushed this date to 8,500 years. According to this, there had been a settlement in Istanbul in 5,000 B.C., he said.
“While the Marmara Sea was a lake, the people of the Neolithic period lived around this lake. With the rise of the waters, this Neolithic settlement remained under the Marmara Sea. This is very important for the history of Istanbul,” Kocabaş said.
Namık Kılıç started the project as a student and now serves as the deputy president in charge of conservation. Kılıç said the freeze-drying device, which is one of the major equipment of the project, was first used by İÜ experts in Turkey in terms of water saturated wood preservatives.
The water-saturated wood becomes long lasting, he said.
The pieces of the project’s most famous shipwreck, the 1,100 year-old Yenikapı 12, were protected with this method, said Kilıç, adding that visitors would be able to see the ship as a whole in the museum.
He said the conservation of the shipwreck began in 2009 and was finished in nearly nine years.