Yenikapı Hull Documentation and Research

Begun as a rescue excavation in 2004 under the direction of the Istanbul Archaeological Museums, archaeological research at the site of Yenikapı recovered at least 36 Byzantine shipwrecks.  Since 2018, faculty and students associated with the KUDAR Maritime Archaeology Center have been working at the Bodrum Research Center of the Institute of Nautical Archaeology on the documentation of three of these shipwrecks.

Photo courtesy of C. Pulak / Institute of Nautical Archaeology.
In 2004 the Istanbul Archaeological Museums began a series of salvage excavations associated with the Marmaray Rail Project, a multi-billion-dollar expansion of Istanbul’s subway and rail infrastructure. The largest dig occurred in the Yenikapı district of the old city at the site of Constantinople’s ancient Theodosian Harbor. Over the next eight years, Turkish archaeologists uncovered a vast array of finds, ranging from Neolithic burials and house foundations to Ottoman wells and shops. However, the largest number of finds dates to the Late Roman and Byzantine periods, when Yenikapı was the site of the Theodosian Harbor, one of the main commercial harbors of the imperial capital. Among the Late Roman and Byzantine period finds were the remains of at least 36 shipwrecks dating from c. AD 400-1000, the largest and most varied collection of vessels known from a Mediterranean site of this period. These shipwrecks include examples of both a variety of merchant ships and the first Byzantine galleys ever discovered. In cooperation with the Istanbul Archaeological Museum, eight of these shipwrecks dating from the seventh to late 10th century AD were documented and dismantled between 2005 and 2008 by a team from the Institute of Nautical Archaeology (INA) under the direction of Cemal Pulak (Texas A&M University), 27 shipwrecks were recovered by the Department of Conservation of Marine Archaeological Objects at Istanbul University, and two recovered by the Istanbul Archaeological Museums.

The post-excavation documentation, analysis, reconstruction, and conservation of the shipwrecks began in 2006 and will require a number of years of additional work to complete. These shipwrecks are particularly important for the history of seafaring due to the fact that they were built in a period in which Mediterranean shipwrights transitioned from the earlier shell-based construction to skeleton- or frame-based methods, similar to wooden shipbuilding methods used today. How and why this change occurred has been studied for decades, but until recently relatively few shipwrecks from the first millennium AD were available for detailed study. Research on these shipwrecks will provide an unprecedented picture of economic activity, shipbuilding technology, and daily life in Constantinople in the late antique and Byzantine periods.

Michael Jones, (Assistant Professor, Department of Archaeology and History of Art,  Koç University), has worked as part of the Yenikapı Project team since 2005 His recent research on the Yenikapı shipwrecks has focused primarily on YK 14, a lightly built 9th-century vessel, and YK 23, a heavier, more robust cargo ship probably constructed in the 8thcentury AD. Graduate and undergraduate students from Koç University’s Department of Archaeology and History of Art have participated in the documentation of these shipwrecks since 2018 at the Institute of Nautical Archaeology’s Bodrum Research Center, learning ship timber drawing photography, and cataloging methods as well as 3-D photogrammetry modeling.

Keel timber from the Byzantine shipwreck YK 23. Photo courtesy of M. Jones / Institute of Nautical Archaeology.
Publications from the INA Yenikapı Shipwrecks Project

Jones, M. R. 2017. “The Hull Construction of Yenikapı 14 (YK 14), a Middle Byzantine Shipwreck from Constantinople’s Theodosian Harbour, Istanbul, Turkey.” International Journal of Nautical Archaeology 46.2 (September 2017): 253-83.

Ingram, R. 2018. “The Hull of Yenikapı Shipwreck YK 11: a 7th-century merchant vessel from Constantinople’s Theodosian Harbour.” International Journal of Nautical Archaeology 47.1: 103-39.

Ingram, R., and M. Jones. 2011. “Yenikapı: Documenting Two Byzantine Merchant Ships from the Yenikapı Excavations in Istanbul, Turkey.” INA Annual 2010: 8-17.

Jones, M. R. 2015. “A Middle-Byzantine-Period Cargo Vessel from the Yenikapı Excavations in Istanbul: A Preliminary Analysis.”In Proceedings of the Research Center for Anatolian Civilizations’ Fifth Annual Symposium, “Istanbul and Water,” at Koç University, Istanbul, Turkey, 4-5 December 2010, edited by P. Magdalino and N. Ergin, p. 91-114. Ancient Near Eastern Studies Supplement Series 47. Leuven: Peeters Publishers.

Liphschitz, N., and C. Pulak. 2009. “Shipwrecks of the Portus Theodosiacus. Types of Wood Used in Some Byzantine Roundships and Longships found at Yenikapı, Istanbul.” Skyllis 9.2:164-71.

Pulak, C. 2007a. “Yenikapı Byzantine Shipwrecks.” In Istanbul: 8,000 Years Brought to Daylight: Marmaray, Metro, Sultanahmet Excavations, edited by Z. Kızıltan, pp. 202-15. Istanbul, Turkey: Vehbi Koç Vakfı.

Pulak, C. 2007b. “Yenikapı Batıkları: Fırtınanın Armağanı.” Arkeoatlas 2007:129-41.

Pulak, C. 2007c. “Yenikapı Batikları.” Atlas 172:100-15.

Pulak, C. 2007d. Yenikapı Buluntularının Teknoloji Tarihine Katkısı. Istanbul, Turkey: TTMOB Mimarlar Odası Büyükkent Şubesi.

Pulak, C., R. Ingram, and M. Jones. 2014. “Galleys and Merchantmen.” TINA Maritime Archaeology Periodical 1: 8-25.

Pulak, C., R. Ingram, and M. Jones. 2015a. “Eight Shipwrecks from the Theodosian Harbour Excavations at Yenikapı in Istanbul, Turkey: An Introduction.” International Journal of Nautical Archaeology 44.1: 39-73.

Pulak, C., R. Ingram, and M. Jones. 2015b. “The Shipwrecks at Yenikapı: Recent Research in Byzantine Shipbuilding.” In Tradition and Transition: Maritime Studies in the Wake of the Byzantine Shipwreck at Yassıada, Turkey. Proceedings of a Symposium Held at Texas A&M University, November 2-4, 2007, edited by D. N. Carlson, S. M. Kampbell, and J. Leidwanger. College Station: Texas A&M University Press.

Pulak, C., R. Ingram, M. Jones, and S. Matthews. 2013. “The Shipwrecks of Yenikapı and Their Contribution to the Study of Ship Construction.” In Stories from the Hidden Harbor: Shipwrecks of Yenikapı, edited by Z. Kızıltan and G. Baran Çelik, p. 23-34. Istanbul, Turkey: Istanbul Archaeological Museums Press.

Related Publications on the Wrecks and other Material from the Site

Asal, R., and Z. Kızıltan. 2014. “M.Ö. 7 – M.S. 12. Yüzyıllar Theodosius Limanı’nın 1900 Yılı.” In Harbours and Harbour Cities in the Eastern Mediterranean, BYZAS 19, edited by S. Ladstätter, F. Pirson, and T. Schmidts, 377-97. Österreichisches Archäologisches Institut Sonderschriften 52. Istanbul: Ege Yayınları.

Doğu, D., Ç. Kose, S. N. Kartal, and N. Erdin. 2011. “Wood Identification of Wooden Marine Piles from the Ancient Byzantine Port of Eleutherius/Theodosius.” BioResources 6.2: 987-1018.

Günsenin, N., and E. Rieth. 2012. “Un graffito de bateau a voile latine sur une amphore (IXe S. ap. J.-C.) du Portus Theodosiacus (Yenikapı).” Anatolia Antiqua XX: 157-64.

Kızıltan, Z. (ed.). 2007. Istanbul: 8,000 Years Brought to Daylight: Marmaray, Metro, Sultanahmet Excavations. Istanbul: Vehbi Koç Vakfı.

Kızıltan, Z., and G. Baran Çelik (eds.). 2013.Stories from the Hidden Harbor: Shipwrecks of Yenikapı. Istanbul: Istanbul Archaeological Museums Press.

Kocabaş, U. (ed.). 2010. Istanbul Archaeological Museums Proceedings of the 1st Symposium on Marmaray-Metro Salvage Excavations, 5th-6th May 2008. Istanbul: Istanbul Archaeological Museums Press.

Kocabaş, U. 2015. “The Yenikapı Byzantine-Era Shipwrecks, Istanbul, Turkey: a preliminary report and inventory of the 27 wrecks studied by Istanbul University.” International Journal of Nautical Archaeology 44.1: 5-38.

Kuniholm, P. I., C. L. Pearson, T. J. Wazny, and C. B. Griggs. 2015. “Of Harbors and Trees: The Marmaray Contribution to a 2367-Year Oak-Tree-Ring Chronology from 97 Sites in the Aegean, East Mediterranean, and Black Sea.” In Proceedings of the Research Center for Anatolian Civilizations’ Fifth Annual Symposium, “Istanbul and Water,” at Koç University, Istanbul, Turkey, 4-5 December 2010, edited by P. Magdalino and N. Ergin, p. 47-90. Ancient Near Eastern Studies Supplement Series 47. Leuven: Peeters Publishers.

Onar, V., H. Alpak, G. Pazvant, A. Armutak, N. G. Ince, and Z. Kızıltan. 2013. “A Bridge from Byzantium to Modern Day Istanbul: An Overview of Animal Skeleton Remains Found During the Metro and Marmaray Excavations.” J. Fac. Med. Istanbul Univ. 39.1: 1-8.

Pearson, C. L., C. B. Griggs, P. I. Kuniholm, P. W. Brewer, T. Wazny, L. Canady. 2012. “Dendroarchaeology of the mid-first millennium AD in Constantinople.” Journal of Archaeological Sciences 39: 3402-3414.