Oct 26 2017

Will a new excavation turn Istanbul’s history on its head?

Archaeologists have uncovered the oldest graves ever found in the Turkish metropolis of Istanbul and say they may lead to a radical re-evaluation of the city’s first settlers.

The sprawling modern city of Istanbul was founded in antiquity, according to Greek mythology, by Byzas who named the city Byzantium after himself. The Roman Emperor Constantine then consecrated it as the new capital of the empire in 330AD and it was conquered by the Ottoman Turks in 1453, becoming known as Istanbul internationally after Turkey’s adoption of the Latin script in 1928.  

The 35 burials, thought to date from between 1500–1200 BC, were uncovered during ongoing work on an underground train line running through the fashionable neighbourhood of Beşiktaş, the Hürriyet newspaper said.

The graves are each marked by a pile of stones and the bodies were either cremated or buried in the foetal position – both hallmarks of Northern Black Sea Turkic culture at the time.

That means that there may have been proto-Turkic inhabitants of Istanbul – likely via the Balkans – over two millennia before the Seljuks fought their way into Anatolia after the battle of Manzikert in 1071. As Hürriyet put it: