A Blast from the past

Archaeologists continue to make new discoveries in Türkiye, including a lost underground city.

Türkiye has been home to many civilizations across the millennia. In addition to being ruled by the Hittites and Romans, it also has some of the oldest settlements in the world. This results in Türkiye being a very fruitful country for archaeologists. Recent excavations across Türkiye have continued to yield new archaeological treasures, including a lost underground city and several churches. Göbeklitepe, located near the Syrian border, continues to make the news even after years of excavations. Its latest news is the discovery of a pictogram that might be the oldest in the world. The site, which could be 12,000 years old, consists of massive Tshaped pillars with animal reliefs arranged in a circle. At the moment, it is commonly identified as a religious site. Since little evidence of human habitation has been found, it seems to have been built by huntergatherers. While this would revolutionize our understanding of history, there is still much more to learn from future research.

Recent excavations in the famous region of Cappadocia have added to its archaeological wealth. Situated in central Türkiye, it has unique geological features, including soft volcanic rock that is easily carved. This allowed for a large number of underground cities and rock-hewn churches to be built across several millennia. An underground city, dating back as early as 3000 BC, was discovered during a construction project underneath a Byzantine fortress in Nevşehir. It could end up rivalling the largest underground city in nearby Derinkuyu which once housed as many as 20,000 people.

Yet the latest news coming out of Cappadocia is the discovery of another rock hewn church. While the excavation has just started, the church seems to date to around the 5th century AD, making it one of the oldest in the region. Like many other Cappadocian churches, it has a wide variety of vibrant frescoes. Some of these frescoes, though, have unique scenes, such as the ascension of Christ and the punishment of the wicked. The site is likely to yield more frescoes since it has only been partially uncovered.

There are also several other recently discovered early Christian sites in Türkiye. One noteworthy example is a 4th century Roman basilica found in Nicaea (now known as Iznik), the location of the first Christian ecumenical council held in 325. Discovered in 2014, excavations of the basilica require divers since it is completely submerged a few meters away from the lake shore. The local government has plans to make the site an underwater museum.

Istanbul also has its share of noteworthy archaeological sites. One of these is Küçükyalı ArkeoPark, located on its Asian side near the Marmara coast. For years it was thought to be a Byzantine palace, but recent excavations have led to its identification as a monastery built in the 9th century. It is now an archaeological park, open for tours, educational field trips and various activities for the community. Among the newest excavation sites in Istanbul is the nearby Dragos Bath. Preliminary research suggests it was a complex consisting of a church, a bath and a residence dating back to Late Antiquity.

All of these excavations have revealed more about Türkiye’s long, complex history. Yet this is only the beginning, as there are many other sites that continue to be discovered and excavated across the country every year. As archaeologists continue their excavations, it is certain that much more will be discovered in Türkiye in the future.