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The beautiful Bodrum peninsula suits those interested in a more subdued and relaxing atmosphere
keeper of the ancient world
Unfathoming the mysteries of the deep from excavated shipwrecks


The southwest corner of Turkey's Aegean coast around Bodrum used to be the centre for Turkish sponge diving. Tourism has largely supplanted the trade and it is possible that the remaining sponge divers are the last-of-their-kind. A tough and hazardous business, teams of divers used to head off to sea for months on end, combing Turkey's southern and western shores for sponge-beds.

They found not only the sponges but also ancient shipwrecks, the hulls buried or rotted away with imperishable amphorae (clay jars) still intact. Apart from selling some of these or using them for storing water, the divers had little interest in the wrecks.

This world of information about the past lay untapped for many years until Ahmet Erbin from Bodrum made an exiting discovery while collecting sponges near Marmaris in the early 60s. He and four other fishermen were pulling in what felt like a full, heavy sack-load of sponges when they found amphorae and a bronze statue of a woman among the sponges, sea plants, mussel shells and mud. The sponges were carefully placed to one side and the amphorae were broken up before being thrown overboard so as not to catch in the sack.

But the statue of the woman with her sad, haunting eyes caught Erbin's imagination and she remained on board safe from her watery grave and facing another destiny. That lay in the shape of the late Professor George Bean, a lecturer in Classics at Istanbul University for 25 years who was spending some time in Bodrum then. He spotted the statue lying on the sand surrounded by police who had confiscated it from fishermen.

Bean identified the mysterious female figure as "Demeter, the goddess of earth and fertility"; her name means "Mother Earth". The statue was established as one of the most important works of classical archaeology and is said to date from the third century BC. This fisherman's catch was eventually brought to Izmir Museum, its final resting-place.

But Demeter left behind her a series of unanswered questions. Where was the wreck of the ship that had carried her? Did it carry others? How many more statues were lying off Turkey's shores? With these questions, the "woman from the sea" had started underwater archaeology in Turkey.

Sponge diver Kemal Aras from Bodrum also played a part when he spotted something unusual on the seabed when diving off Cape Gelidonya near Finike Although he had come across shipwrecks before, he discovered that this wreck's horde Was metal ingots, not amphorae. Unfortunately, they were stuck together and he could not bring one to the surface.

He remembered them a long time after when he met the American journalist Peter Throckmorton who had come to Bodrum in 1958 to make a film about Turkey's sponge divers. Throckmorton had been fascinated by the amphorae and other finds from wrecks. He had talked to the sponge divers and eventually met Kemal Aras. His story persuaded Throckmorton to switch from the divers themselves to sunken ships - especially the wreck of Gelidonya.

Aras explained the location and Throckmorton set off to find what was to become one of the world's oldest shipwrecks. It was not an easy job, despite Aras's directions. But as the fight was disappearing and preparations were under way for the trip home, two divers found the wreck and a bronze cup and ladle were the first objects retrieved.

The excavation proper finally began under the direction of the American archaeologist Dr George Bass. He was joined by expert divers and slowly the wreck revealed its story. Apart from the bullion, the team established that the oars were from Cyprus and the crew of Syrian-Palestinian origin. Findings indicated that the ship dated from the middle of the 12th century BC. At the end of the Bronze Age. The artifacts were taken to Bodrum Castle and so the foundations of the world's oldest underwater archaeological museum were laid.

Bass pioneered a new field of archaeology by being the first to systematically explore the seabed, which, he says, is "the most abundant source of undisturbed historical sites". He went on to found the Institute of Nautical Archaeology in 1973. Affiliated with Texas A & M University, its headquarters are at Bodrum Castle. The institute has since explored shipwrecks all over the world, but has always kept its connections with the Bodrum sponge divers.

This connection eventually led to the discovery in 1982 of the world's oldest wreck at Ulu Burun, a barren cape near Kas Sponge diver Mehmet Cakir reported seeing "metal biscuits with ears" there on a dive in 1982. The following year these were identified as metal ingots similar to those depicted in the tombs at Thebes in 1350 BC. Excavations have been slow but findings have shown that the first method of shipbuilding is of even greater antiquity than previously realized.

Bass said he hope this discovery would yield evidence to support his theories about Bronze Age trades in the eastern Mediterranean. Now he says "I am going to let this little shipwreck take us on a voyage of its own".

TURQUOISE by Kadir Can



Idyll Villas
Zeybek Sokak No : 8  P.K.78 Yalikavak Bodrum TURKIYE
Phone : +90 252 385 55 90     Fax : +90 252 385 55 89


For further information, please contact :


Mr. Sonad PELIT - Bodrum (+90 542 213 81 04)

Mrs. Amanda CHESTER - London (+44 797 636 3906)

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