Answering Ankara’s Call for Help, University Researchers Locate Ancient Cargo Remains and Maybe a Turkish Atlantis

Subaqueous exploration. Divers from the University of Haifa archeology team map out the site of their “dig” off Liman Tepe in Turkey.

A three-week expedition in response to Ankara University’s request for the University of Haifa’s cooperation this summer in conducting underwater explorations off Urla, a city some 35 kilometers southwest of Izmir, led to surprising discoveries. One such find might be termed the cargo remains of a 5th century BCE “bulk carrier.”

It is the first time that an Israeli team had been invited to participate in archeological research in Turkey. The expedition made a big splash in the Turkish press, which gave the Haifaites front-page treatment.

This was Ankara University’s first venture into the field of underwater archeology, which is the reason that it called on the specialists from the University of Haifa for assistance. The University’s Leon Recanati Institute for Maritime Studies has gained worldwide recognition for its expertise in underwater research, especially in its interdisciplinary utilization of coastal and underwater archeology, geomorphology, history and marine biology. The expertise in these fields led the Turks to call on the Israelis rather than on the American delegations, which were previously the only foreigners excavating underwater in the Turkey, according to Haifa’s Prof. Michal Artzy, who led the 16-person Israeli delegation to the archeological harbor site in Urla known as Liman Tepe.

Israeli and Turkish underwater explorers wade into the deep. The University’s logo is clearly visible on the oxygen tanks

“We hardly scratched the surface,” said an exuberant Artzy of the team’s work upon her return in mid-September. Artzy, a member of Haifa’s Department of Maritime Civilizations, presently heads the Maritime Institute. “We carried out geological measurements and completed the mapping of the underwater site,” she continued. It might have been a terrestial site that sank, or it was inundated sometime in the past. We have no idea where the ancient coastal line was located. For that, one has to understand more of the geology of the site in the different periods of its existence.

“At the same time we tried to understand the possible elements which are now positioned under water, whether they were originally terrestial or underwater constructions. We, at the University of Haifa’s Maritime Institute, have had plenty of experience in both fields, especially harbor constructions and underwater geological research. That’s why they called on us.”

When a reporter suggested that the site may be a Turkish Atlantis, the archeologist responded that it was under only three meters of water. The relative shallowness makes it possible to observe much just by snorkling or even from the surface when the water is calm.

The underwater site mapped by the team is connected to a large site which dates to the Early Bronze age (the 3rd millennium BCE) and even earlier. It is on the same coast as the much more famous Troy, Artzy pointed out, adding that the fortifications of the early Liman Tepe are larger. In the 1st millennium BCE, the area was a very large olive oil exporter, and the pithoi, the large containers used to carry bulk goods, that the team found date to the middle of that millennium.

The Israeli contingent in Turkey included the archeologists Prof. Avner Raban and Dr. Ezra Marcus; the geologist Dr. Dorit Sivan; an ancient boat specialist, Dr. Yaacov Kahanov; computer specialist Yossi Salmon, and students who are trained divers. They were joined by Turkish archeologists and students, some of whom received their diving certificates a few days after the beginning of the project. Following training and guidance by the Maritime Institute’s diving and operations officer, Stephen Breitstein, and the marine operations technician, Amir Yurman, they joined the daily underwater operations.

Prof. Hayat Erkanal of the University of Ankara, who in July paid a three-day visit to Israel, his first trip here, is in charge of the Ankara team. Erkanal, a specialist in Near Eastern archeology, heads the Izmir Regional Excavation and Research Project. The Limantepe excavation is part of this overall project.

Erkanal met with Artzy to discuss the logistics of the bi-national effort and to see firsthand at Caesarea, where Raban directs the University’s excavation, what an underwater project involves. Following the Turkish scholar’s visit, it was decided to ship necessary equipment, which the Institute has develoved especially for these types of excavation, in a container. The container became project headquaters. Just a few hours after the container’s arrival and deposition near the site of Liman Tepe, its doors were opened and the excavation was on its way. Running water, supplied by the municipality of Urla, helped the divers immensely.

The University’s Institute of Maritime Studies and the Dept. of Maritime Civilzations have for a number of years been conducting wide-ranging coastal and underwater excavations along Israel’s northern Mediterranean shore: in the ancient harbor of Caesarea, at Tel Akko (Acre), Tel Nami, and the shipwrecks at Ma’agan Mikhael and Dor (Tantura).

The Liman Tepe project received financial help from the two institutions, the University of Haifa and Ankara University, which have signed a cooperation agreement. Sir Maurice and Lady Irene Hatter of England, as well as donations in memory of the late Haifa advocate Yaacov Solomon, who had a great interest in both the port city and the sea, also assisting in defraying the cost of the expedition.

First Season Completed at Susita

The Christian world will find great interest in finds uncovered this summer during the first excavation season at Susita, the ancient Hippos, by a team from the University’s Zinman Institute of Archaeology. The dig was led by the Institute’s Head, Prof. Arthur Segal, in partnership with Dr. J. Mlynarczyk of the Polish Academy of Sciences and Dr. M. Burdajewicz of the National Museum of Warsaw, and assisted by a dozen students from the University of Warsaw and Haifa as well as volunteers from the Jordan Valley and Golan Heights.

This beautiful mosaic floor of a Byzantine-era church was one of the serendipitous finds from the Susita excavation

The site of the Hellenistic city is located some 2 km east of the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) and 350 meters above it. It was abandoned in the 8th century CE, following a series of earthquakes in the region. This is the first time that the city, which had a Jewish community, has been excavated; in the light of surprising finds, Segal assures that it will be a multi-year project.

The most surprising of these finds, according to the archeologist, was a reliquarium, a container holding the bones of a saint or objects relating to such a person. Segal said that such a find is very rate and had supreme religious and historical value.

Billed as a learning survey, this first expedition set out to uncover the remains of what was originally thought to be a typical Byzantine-era church in the northwest part of Susita. But this edifice turned out to have three apses, instead of one, perhaps as a result of liturgical changes. Sections of a colorful mosaic floor and remains of well-styled church furniture church were also revealed. Segal hopes that the next season will solve the enigma of the saint’s identity.

Reliquarium found during recent University-sponsored archeological excavation at Susita