8,500-year-old footprints and graves are rewriting the history of Istanbul








The discovery of more than 1,500 footprints and a number of graves dating back 8,500 years has shed new light on the Istanbul’s history, which was previously thought to have begun less than three millennia ago.

Until a few years ago, it was thought that the first human settlements in Istanbul dated back 2,700 years when Greek colonists from Megara in Corinthion peninsula (near Athens) sailed and first settled in Chalchedon (present day Kadikoy) on the Asian side in 675 BC. Approximately 16 years later King Byzas, settled on the opposite side of Chalchedon, an area chosen for its strategic location on the sea routes from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean.  King Byzas named the city Byzantium after himself.

However, the belief that the Greek colonists were the first was upturned when excavations for the Yenikapi subway station and the Marmaray undersea tunnel to cross the Bopshorus uncovered Neolithic settlements, with the oldest dating back to 6,700 BC.

Speaking at a conference titled “İstanbul as an Archaeological Site” held recently by the Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University Anatolian Culture and Art Research and Implementation Center (AKSAM), archaeologist Aksel Tibet said that the footprints are the most exciting archaeological find in recent history, according to a news report in Today’s Zaman.


A team of archaeologists work at the Yenikapı Marmaray construction site in this 2011 file photo. (Photo: Sunday’s Zaman)

Excavations have been ongoing at the site, which covers an area of 60,000 square metres, since 2008, and recoveries of thousands of artifacts are rewriting the history of Istanbul. So far, archaeologists have discovered 37 shipwrecks, wooden tombs containing human remains, leather and wooden sandals, wooden cups, amphorae containing fruit and nuts, and tens of thousands of other relics from the Ottoman, Byzantine and Neolithic eras.


One of the shipwrecks uncovered at the archaeological site. Photo source.

Researchers are particularly excited about the discovery of more than 1,500 footprints dating to 6,000 – 6,500 BC.  The arrangement of the footprints suggests that they were made during a ritual, and archaeologists suggest that they might have been preserved thanks to an unusual natural event. The ritual might have been held in a riverbed, where the ground was muddy. Footprints formed in this way can dry out and solidify. Later, floods might have brought silt or alluvial deposits that covered and preserved the prints.

Visiting the dig site, President Abdullah Gül wrote in the guest book: “It is clear that the archaeological finds discovered on the site will shed light on İstanbul’s glorious past as well as on various epochs in humankind’s historical adventure.”


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