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Archaeological Survey of Boğsak Island and Its Environs

Günder Varinlioǧlu, Koç University, Project Grant 2013–2014

Since 2010, Boğsak Archaeological Survey has studied Boğsak Island and its environs in ancient Isauria. This small off-shore island (ca. 7 ha), which was previously uninhabited, underwent a major transformation in late antiquity through the creation of a sizeable Christian settlement with complex infrastructure and architecture. Seven churches, extensive cemeteries, residential neighborhoods, cisterns, drainage systems, and structures lining the island’s shores, were built on an inhospitable, rocky piece of land devoid of fresh water, arable land, or any other useful natural resources.

Boğsak Archaeological Survey has uncovered and documented a previously unknown island settlement, which prospered between the fourth and the end of the seventh centuries CE. The project’s research agenda, however, does not conceptualize the island as an isolated analytical unit; instead it explores the cultural, economic, artistic, and political boundaries beyond the physical limits of the island. Thus it addresses questions of multiple scales:

  1. What is the chronology of settlement and abandonment on Boğsak Island?
  2. How were the surviving structures and inhabited spaces on Boğsak Island utilized? 
  3. Why were extensive resources and labor allocated to transform this marginal, agriculturally poor site into a permanent settlement and what was the provenance of the resources?
  4. How did Isaurian island settlements compare to non-insular ones in terms of their structure, functions, architecture, economy, and conceptualization?

To answer these research questions, the Boğsak Archaeological Survey began with the full coverage survey of the island’s terrain and settlement (see the report of the 2010 season) and  then prioritized four tasks:

  1. Mapping Boğsak Island’s terrain and settlement to study the layout of the settlement and to create a ‘base map’ for the GIS (Geospatial Information Systems) platform (fig. 1).
  2. Documenting and studying the architectural characteristics (building materials, techniques, components, and decoration) of the built environment.
  3. Sampling the material evidence (pottery, metal, coins, glass, etc.)
  4. Surveying the hinterland of Boğsak Bay to document the sites (settlements, wine and olive-oil presses, slipways for ship repair and construction, watch stations, etc.) and landscapes that constituted the island’s immediate network. 

The 2013 Fieldwork Campaign

Vegetation Clearance and Mapping

As in previous years, the fourth campaign of Boğsak Archaeological Survey focused mainly on Boğsak Island itself. The team included students (undergraduate and graduate), professors, and affiliates from various institutions in Turkey (Mimar Sinan University, İstanbul Technical University, Bilgi University, Koç University, Gazi University), US (Texas A&M), UK (University of Birmingham) and Denmark (Viking Museum). We started the season with the clearance of the vegetation in the northern section of the eastern slopes of the island, where we were expecting to find the continuation of the northeastern neighborhood, uncovered and mapped in 2012. Indeed, the eastern slope was densely built with structures (probably houses) organized on artificial terraces facing southeast. This neighborhood extended from Church VI on the northeastern tip of the island to Churches I and V right below the summit (fig. 1). The architectural remains at lower altitudes, close to the easily accessible northeastern coastline, were heavily looted for building materials probably in the past 40-50 years, while the structures further up were much better preserved (fig. 2). In this newly uncovered neighborhood, we first made the sketch plans of architectural remains, which we subsequently  used to record the points whose terrestrial coordinates were measured using a Leica Flexline TS06 Total Station. This area was mapped only for the preparation of a site plan; the data collection needed for three-dimensional drawings/models and hypothetical reconstruction will be carried out in 2014.   

The topographic map of the island, generated using the terrestrial and aerial data collected in previous seasons, was not accurate enough, especially in the sections which we were unable to measure due to dense vegetation. Therefore, the Geomatics team worked on mapping the terrain of the entire island using mainly a Leica Flexline TS06 Total Station, but also two GNSS units when they were available.

Terrestrial and Aerial Photogrammetry

One of the long-term objectives of the survey project has been the creation of a digital model of the island’s terrain and architectural remains. For this purpose, we planned to use a GPS-guided hexacopter, capable of following the flight plan prepared by photogrammetry specialists Dr. Umut Aydar and Özgür Avşar from İstanbul Technical University. Unfortunately, we were unable to implement this plan due to unforeseen technical problems. We have instead carried out a comprehensive aerial photographic (but not photogramettric) documentation of the newly uncovered eastern neighborhood. In this, we employed two different types of equipment: 1) For the aerial photography of the eastern neighborhood, a model helicopter carrying a Canon 5D Mark II camera with a 50mm lens; 2) For the aerial video of the entire island, a quadcopter carrying a GoPro video camera (Black Edition).

The terrestrial photogrammetry work was successfully carried out by Dr. Serra Akboy and her assistants who photographed Church V (“martyrion”), a vaulted cistern, and two column capitals in the Boğsak village. This project used a Canon 60D camera with a 35 mm fixed lens and PhotoModeler Scanner software. The objective of this project is to create three-dimensional digital models, as well as scaled elevations, plans, and sections of these structures and artifacts.

Small Finds

The new legislation issued in 2013 by the Department of Antiquities instituted a no-collection policy for survey projects. We therefore decided not to carry out a pedestrian survey. Instead, Rick Wohmann, the pottery specialist who joined the project in late 2012, studied the pottery collected in previous years and revised the pottery section of the database created by Dr. Rebecca Ingram. In addition, he selected one structure in the eastern neighborhood as a case study and did a full coverage survey within its walls. This also served as a test case to develop a survey methodology for the 2014 campaign.  

We have found over sixty pieces of architectural sculpture (column shafts, bases, and capitals, panels with Christian imagery, colonnettes, etc.) scattered throughout the eastern neighborhood, but concentrating mainly near Churches I, V, and VI. These fragmentary artifacts were numbered, photographed, drawn to scale (1/1, 1/5, 1/10), geocoded, and entered into the inventory list.  

Land and Maritime Survey

We also expanded our investigations to the modern-day Boğsak Village on land. With the assistance of Özgür Topbaş, archaeologist from Silifke Museum, we mapped (using a Leica Flexline T06 Total Station) and photographed the remains of an ancient road on land, which was recently discovered by the museum. We have also continued the documentation of architectural sculpture inside the village. Finally, two column capitals from a late fifth-century church, already documented in 2013, were re-photographed systematically for photogrammetric processing.

Under the direction of Dr. Matthew Harpster, a small team of maritime archaeologists conducted a reconnaissance survey of the maritime landscapes in the immediate vicinity of Boğsak, including Aphrodisias, Palaiai (Tahtalimanı), and the coastline across from Dana and Boğsak Islands. One of the most noteworthy finds of this survey came from the southwestern section of Boğsak Bay, where remains of slipways for ship repair and construction were preserved. The permit for the underwater survey was unfortunately issued right before the departure of the maritime team. As a result, only one recreational dive was made to a shipwreck north of the island, well-known by local divers. In 2014, we plan to start the systematic survey of the underwater environment around Boğsak Island and Boğsak Bay.

Archaeometery

Led by Dr. Ali Akın Akyol from Gazi University in Ankara, samples samples of mortar, plaster, ceramic, stone, marble, and soil were collected throughout the island. The objective is to map the distribution of building materials used on the island and identify their material characteristics, composition, and provenance.

Preliminary Conclusions

Bosak Archaeological Survey did not find any pottery, coins, or other small finds datable beyond the end of the seventh century. The complete absence of later material might first be considered as a firm date for the end of settlement on Boğsak Island. Yet new evidence that came to light in the 2012 and 2013 campaigns raises questions about the chronology and processes of abandonment. Several pieces of architectural sculpture belonging to churches were recycled in the northeastern and eastern neighborhoods. In another instance, a limestone panel (possibly separating the nave from the aisles) found in Church VI was left unfinished (fig. 3). This raises the question whether the construction of Church VI could be fully completed. Another curious feature uncovered in 2013, and which we will continue to explore in the field in 2014, comes from the stone paved street along the eastern slope, which connects Churches I, V, and VII (the latter was discovered in 2013). The street abruptly ends mid-way between Churches I-V and Church VI, where its course is blocked by structures, some of which used spolia and roof tiles in their masonry. One might explain this transformation with the insufficiency of funding – perhaps also causing the unfinished architectural sculpture of Church VI — that stopped the ecclesiastical construction on the island. This evidence suggests that construction continued on the island after the heyday of ecclesiastical building in the fifth and sixth centuries, and perhaps also after one or more churches (especially Church VI) went out of use, whenever this may have happened.

Fieldwork in 2014

Future research and fieldwork seasons will continue to test these hypotheses through a closer study of the northeastern and eastern neighborhoods. In addition, the maritime survey and a more extensive reconnaissance survey around Boğsak Bay will provide new data about the immediate hinterland of the island.

Acknowledgments

We are truly grateful to the archaeologists at the Silifke Museum: İlhame Öztürk (director), İbrahim Sezen (our representative), and Özgür Topbaş. The 2014 campaign was made possible through the generous support of Dumbarton Oaks, Loeb Classical Library Foundation, Suna-İnan Kıraç Research Institute on Mediterranean Civilizations, and Mersin İl Özel İdaresi in Turkey.