Tunnel digging reveals new chapter in Istanbul’s history

By Lalit K. Jha, IANS,

Istanbul : The chance uncovering of 8,000-year-old human urns, ashes, clothes and utensils while digging for an undersea metro tunnel in Istanbul is a stunning find that throws new light on the historic past of the Turkish capital, say archaeologists.

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As a result, heavy machines have been stopped from digging into this part of the tunnel, being built under the Bosporus or Istanbul Strait to connect the Asian and European parts of this city.

Once the seat of the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman empires, Istanbul is said to be the third largest city of the world today with a population of more than 11 million.

Ismail Karamut, director of Istanbul Archaeology Museum, told the local Hurriyet Daily News the urns and other artefacts uncovered during the digging were “extremely important”.

Besides the urns, the excavation has uncovered ashes wrapped in cloth, used clothes and other belongings of the dead. One urn contained the skeleton of a baby. Experts believe it was very likely that this area was a burial site, the newspaper said.

Archeologists said the findings reveal that Istanbul had a thriving human settlement much before the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman Empires.

Terming them as sensational, associate professor Necmi Karul, branch chairperson for the Archeologists Community in Istanbul, said: “In Anatolian archaeology, there were no urn burials from the Neolithic Age. It is definitely a burial site because they are side by side. They date back to 5800-6000 BC, the last of the Neolithic Age”.

Karamut said permission for use of heavy machines for the digging of the tunnel would be given at a later date when the excavation work was over.

Ever since work on this ambitious Turkish project started a few years ago, an archaeological treasure trove has been unearthed – like an intact 1,000-year old wooden boat. But the latest finding has surpassed them all.

The tunnel under Bosporus is being constructed to meet the heavy traffic need of this burgeoning metropolis, which has the rare distinction of being spread over two continents — Asia and Europe.

Right now, two bridges – the 1,074-metre-long Bosporus Bridge built in 1973 and the 1,090-meter-long Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge constructed in 1988 – connect the two parts of Istanbul separated by Bosporus.

Plans are also afoot for a third bridge while the construction on this 13.7-km-long undersea metro tunnel is expected to be over by 2012. Being built at an estimated cost of more than $3.5 billion, it would be one of the world’s deepest tube tunnels once completed, at 75 metres below sea level.