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Underwater Archaeology Museum

Urn display, Bodrum
Urn display, Bodrum

Amphora display showing how containers were set upright into the ship’s hull and lashed together

Over the last 4000 years, small ships have darted throughout the Eastern Mediterranean with oil, olives, wine, raw metals and other trading goods.  Since most of these early vessels were not particularly sophisticated, the waters around Turkey are littered with shipwrecks.  After a tip from local sponge divers in the 1960s, the first underwater archaeology excavations were begun along the Bodrum coast.  A lot of these findings can be seen today in the Museum of Underwater Archaeology housed in the 14th century Bodrum Castle.

large display of ancient amphora

Side by side comparison of regional and time period differences in amphora shape – otherwise known as the Amphora Congress

The Museum still actively supports the Institute of Nautical Archaeology with research and conservation labs.  You can get a good idea of the on-going work and how an excavation is carried out from the video below.  On the scale of cool, nerdy careers, underwater archaeologist may be up there with astronauts.

The Museum does a good job of explaining the birth and evolution of underwater archaeology and the practical aspects of excavating a site.  Even if the signage is old and limited, the photographs are excellent.  The conservation videos are also interesting, demonstrating how to stabilize thousand year old wood that has been soaking in sea water or restore ancient glass cups and perfume bottles.  One highlight of the museum is a resurrected Byzantine ship with a surprisingly complete set of ribs and hull planks.

Byzantine wooden ship wreckage

Resurrected Byzantine wooden ship believe to have sunk in 1025 with a recreated segment on the left

Byzantine wooden wreckage close-up

Byzantine wreckage close-up

The museum also covers the history of Mediterranean trade over a very broad time frame with drawings and exemplary artifacts from the area.  In one room, a Bronze Age ship is recreated “above the water” and then along the floor are the remains of this same ship as archaeologists would have found it.

recreated trade ship

Recreated Bronze Age trading ship including period Minoan sailors

ocean floor archaeology recreation

Ocean floor recreation with a treasure of amphora

Besides amphora of food products, these vessels also carried valuable raw materials.  The stretched rectangular sheets below are copper “oxhide” ingots (named after their unusual shape) which would be smelted with tin to make bronze.

Ocean floor archaeology recreation

Ocean floor recreation complete with plastic aquatic life

Aside from the Museum of Underwater Archaeology, it is fun to stroll through Bodrum Castle.  Created in the 14th century by lost Crusaders, the castle has a distinctly European structure and is decorated with the arms of several German, French and British knights.  When we visited, a group of Turkish school kids were shrieking and giggling about the dungeon which contained a creepy mannequins in chains with some red strobe-lighting.  I was more interested in the amazing views of the coast and luxurious gulets anchored around the city.

Bodrum Castle, Turkey

Bodrum Castle

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