The Shipwreck and the Temple of Apollo

National Geographic has an interesting story on a ~2,000 year old shipwreck off the coast of Kızılburun, Turkey. Among the cargo was a Doric column – well pieces thereof because columns were built in pieces – and part of the interest in the story is in figuring out the final destination of the Doric column. Equally of interest are some of the things being learned about the making of the column. It was quarried in Marmara Island.


The quarry site was identified via its color and through stable isotope analysis (woot! Is there anything stable isotope analysis can’t be used for? Well, yes, but it’s still cool). This is the neat part:

The fact that these column pieces were cut to the right size for the Temple of Apollo at Claros suggests that the ancient Marmara quarry was filling custom orders. That’s something archaeologists hadn’t previously had evidence of in ancient temples.
“I would say there’s a good chance the architects had gone to the quarry and talked to the workmen there,” Fant says. “Or even sent a crew to shape the blocks. That’s why this is really neat.”

Of course the column never arrived and the temple, for unknown reasons, was never completed. National Geographic ends the piece with this evocative paragraph:

So the masons in Claros knew just what they were getting, and what they were planning to do with it. But they didn’t know their stones would never arrive. Perhaps bad weather doomed the ship; perhaps something else. Some 2,000 years later, the stones are still at the bottom of the sea off Kızılburun cape, just 40 miles (64 kilometers) from the temple for which they were intended. “I don’t think you could actually see Kızılburun from Claros, but it’s close,” Carlson says. For the builders waiting at the site, “That must have been a real heartbreak.”

There is a Kızılburun website for those interested in learning more.

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2 Responses

  1. Undersea archaeology seems to surpass itself every year …
    Last weekend I watched a BBC documentary about a find off the Channel Islands … a small Elizabethan warship, the first to be discovered (another famous discovery, the “Mary Rose” was built in the time of Henry VIII).
    Even more amazing, the ship was fitted with cannon of a standard size, leading to the theory that the ships that defeated the Spanish Armada fired uniform broadsides with interchangeable cannonballs of standard weight and size. This development was not considered to have taken place until a hundred years later. The Spanish ships and the “Mary Rose” had cannon of different sizes peeking out of their portholes … with all the balls of a different size, it must have delayed the gunners significantly finding the proper shot for their guns.
    An arquebus (musket) found on the seabed could fire a ball that penetrated the standard breastplate of the era at a few hundred yards. Worth seeing, there’s a little about it here http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00hy68t but if you get a chance to view the BBC “Timewatch” series, don’t miss it!
    Not strictly relevant I know, but another triumph for undersea archaeology.

  2. The real problem with underwater archaeology is that it just takes so much time and money. When I was an undergrad, you had a maximum of two weeks doing diving (out of a required six weeks fieldwork requirement), no matter how long you actually spent, because you get so little contact time overall.
    Obviously the sites in the Med have fewer problems over visibility etc, but access has its own problems – the number of looted shipwreck sites in the Med is far higher than in Europe, for example, simply because its easier for looters to find the sites.
    Great links – and lovely clear diving, by the look of it!

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