Classical Shipwreck Excavation at Tektas Burnu, Turkey

By Gibbins, David | Antiquity, March 2000 | Go to article overview

Classical Shipwreck Excavation at Tektas Burnu, Turkey


Gibbins, David, Antiquity


In 1999 the Institute of Nautical Archaeology (INA) began the excavation of a 5th-century BC shipwreck off Tektas Burnu, a rocky headland on the west coast of Turkey between the Greek islands of Chios and Samos. The site was discovered in 1996 during INA's annual survey, which has pinpointed more than 100 ancient wrecks off southwest Turkey. Since 1960 teams under George Bass have excavated wrecks ranging in date from Bronze Age to medieval, but the high classical period of Greece remained unrepresented. Interest in the Tektas wreck was spurred by its likely date, in the third quarter of the 5th century BC; it is the only wrecked merchantman to be securely dated to these years, and is therefore shedding unique light on seafaring and trade at the height of classical Athens.

The wreck was visible as a mound of 60 amphoras in a sandy gully at 42 m depth. Over almost 2000 dives, from July to September 1999, the team excavated through the upper layer of amphoras and mapped the site using an innovative digital photogrammetry system. The indications are that the ship sank upright and settled intact, with its bow caught in a cleft of rock below the shoreline cliffbase. The presence of upright amphoras in deep sand suggests that the deposit may include substantial hull remains.

The excavated cargo comprised amphoras from Mende, in northern Greece, and others from Chios. The largest number were a pseudo-Samian form which may have been locally made. Although most of the amphoras probably held wine, a greater variety of contents is suggested, perhaps indicating re-use: two were filled with pitch and another with more than 100 butchered cattle bones, rare evidence for the transport of preserved beef in antiquity.

Other pottery included cooking vessels, a hydria, a fine table amphora, eight oil lamps, several black-glazed kantharoi (two-handled cups) and a nested group of four one-handled cups. Some of these items, including the cups, may prove to be cargo, and the rest shipboard equipment; their concentration at either end and at the centre of the site may indicate the main galley and storage areas.

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