A group of Turkish archaeologists says they may have unearthed the remains of Istanbul's first African inhabitant – and he's at least 1,000 years old.
The finding has been hailed by experts as "historic" because it is the oldest skull of a person of African descent discovered in Istanbul – proving further the city's multicultural heritage and historical importance.
Speaking to the Turkish language daily, Milliyet, Ömer Turan from the Istanbul Forensic Medicine Institute compared the skull found in the Küçükçekmece basin to the 70 other skulls previously discovered in the area. "It differs structure-wise from the rest. It has a wide, protruding forehead, a larger, flatter nose and pronounced jaw, which point to its African origins," he said.
The individual, estimated to be a 30-40-year-old male, is believed to have come to Istanbul from the African continent approximately a thousand years ago and most likely died a natural death.
Turan added that the skull and bones bore no traces of trauma, disabling injuries or defects which points to the fact that he was not a slave or servant.
"We think he was a merchant who brought and sold trade goods from Africa," said Şengül Aydıngün, head of the excavation team.
She said previous geomorphological and geological research has shown that Lake Küçükçekmece was a bay of the Sea of Marmara in the past. "Commercial vessels used the port to transport goods from the Mediterranean and Aegean seas to the Black Sea for 5,000 years," Aydıngün said.
"There are 4,000-year-old paintings that show reminiscent of boats belonging to the Minoan civilization in Yarımburgaz cave. We also found the remains of the ancient harbor in Karaburun. Short studies carried out in 2019 proved that there was commercial activity in the region in the 9th and 10th centuries. There was trade activity with different regions and people, from the Vikings in the north of Europe down to the African coast," she said, calling Bathonea the transfer point of international maritime trade of its time.
Aydıngün said she hoped the discovery would be the fuel needed to keep these excavations going.
The excavations in the ancient city of Bathonea began ten years ago on the shores of Lake Küçükçekmece to shed light on Istanbul in prehistoric times. The dig resumed late last year after a three-year break.
In previous excavations at Bathonea, archaeologists had unearthed flint tools, proving that agricultural knowledge passed to Europe via Istanbul.
The ancient city also bore the first traces of the Hittites on the European continent, as well as the Thracian/Phrygian tribes, the existence of which was contested until these findings proved that they migrated from the Bosporus to Anatolia 3,000 years ago.
Remains of the 1,600-year-old imperial palace, commissioned by Roman Emperor Constantine the Great, as well as Istanbul's first Christian martyrs memorial were also discovered there.