The Big Railroad — Not so Fast

Cemalpulak1_2 Istanbul, city of dreams, capital of empires. You dig, you find. You find, you work. Beneath a plastic sheet creating sauna-like humidity, and misted by a length of constant sprinklers, archeologist Cemal Pulak, a Turkish-born professor at Texas A&M University, works on the find of a lifetime. When the city began digging a new, state-of-the-art railroad two years ago in the midst of the city, near the Sea of Marmara, they found what you usually do when you stick something in the ground in this part of the world: antiquities. This time, though, it was 24 ships — 24! — from the early 7th century AD until the 11th century AD. It is the biggest cache of ships ever found in the world. Pulak, pictured this afternoon with a graduate student, Michael Jones, showed me the 5th near-intact ship that they are excavating. This one, a 50-foot coastal vessel, went under in a storm around 950 AD, and was quickly covered in silt, maintaining everything in mint condition. For an underwater expert like Pulak, who usually has to dive underwater to examine this sort of find, this is a true gift. "Of the surviving ship, we have 100 percent preservation," he explained. The wood must remain damp during its excavation to mimic the condition when it went down, though the Sea of Marmara receded long ago. Then came a Byzantine cemetery. Then came an Ottoman-era road. Then came an orchard. Then came illegal apartment buildings, bulldozed to make way for the railroad. Which won’t be built any time soon, because of the find.

Ok, this is me at the end of a long day as I chase down the story of the returned Lydian Hoard, the gold of King Croesus’s time once held by The Metropolitan Museum in New York. (Cemal was a worthy detour.) Istanbulme

I highly recommend Istanbul. For me, it offers the feeling of being stimulated, engaged and drawn in, and lucky to be alive on this beautiful and complicated earth. Onward to Antalya.