Yassiada (Tk., “flat island”) is an island located between Turgut Reis, Turkey, and the Greek island of Pserimo; it is sometimes called Lodo (36°59′30′′N, 27°11′45′′E). The island is small, only 200 × 150 m, with a maximum elevation of 11 m. A reef that extends 200 m southwest from its southwest corner is especially treacherous, for it rises to within 2–3 m of the surface, about 125 m offshore. An unknown number of ships have run onto this reef and sunk, including a Lebanese freighter in 1993; cannonballs are mixed with amphoras on the reef top, with more coherent cargos of Roman-period amphoras and plates lying deeper on its sloping sides. Turkish sponge divers reported raising a ton of glass cullet from the northwest side of the reef in the 1950s, but other than a scatter of glass on that slope, there are no clues to its whereabouts.

At least three ships ripped their bottoms open on the reef, presumably while sailing before the northwest summer wind, and crossed over it to sink close to one another in deeper water off the island's south side. Reports of two of the wrecks by Turkish sponge diver Kemal Aras to Peter Throckmorton led the University Museum of the University of Pennsylvania to excavate one of them between 1961 and 1964.

A seventh-century Byzantine ship, lying at a depth of 32–39 m, approximately 75 m south of the island, it is dated to about 626 CE by fifty-four copper and sixteen gold coins found in its wreckage. Of 60 tons burden, about 20.5 m long, with a beam of 5.2 m, the ship was built in the ancient shell-first manner below the waterline; its pine planks are held together by loosely fitting and widely spaced mortise-and-tenon joints. Above the waterline, however, it was built in the modern frame-first manner, its planks nailed to the ship's elm frames (ribs) with iron nails. This provided the excavators with the first evidence that modern ship construction evolved, and was not an overnight invention. The keel, sternpost, and probably the stem were of cypress. A pair of iron bower anchors rested on either side of the bow, ready for use, with an additional seven iron anchors stacked just forward of the mast. The ship probably carried a single sail and seems to have been steered by sweeps that extended between through-beam extensions on either quarter of the hull. It carried in its hold a cargo of about one thousand wine amphoras in two basic shapes, globular and hourglass; they lack the knobs on their bottoms that had proved helpful in earlier periods for pouring. The disappearance of the knobs may have been the result of the invention of the “wine thief,” a kind of pipette found on the wreck, which could draw liquid from a container without tipping it; the oldest known wine thief is from a wreck near Marzamemi, Sicily, from the sixth century.

The ship's stern galley, separated from the hold by a bulkhead, was roofed with terra-cotta tiles, one with a smoke hole over a tiled firebox that supported an iron grill. Virtually all of the personal possessions of those on board were stored here. In addition to the table and cooking wares, which comprise the largest well-dated collection of seventh-century ceramics, including the earliest-known Byzantine glazed pottery, were twenty-four terra-cotta lamps and various copper vessels. The ship's captain, owner, or merchant—or, perhaps, all three—was one Georgios Presbyteros Naukleros, whose name was inscribed on one of the ship's steelyards, the largest known from antiquity. It was he who must have carried a complete set of Byzantine weights, marked one pound, six ounces, three ounces, two ounces, and one ounce. The ship's carpenter stored his tools, the largest collection known from the seventh century, forward in the galley, whereas the boatswain's tools for gathering firewood and digging for water were in a separate storage area at the very stern, along with a grapnel for the ship's boat and net needles for mending fishing nets; that the crew fished is also indicated by lead sinkers. The finds suggest that the ship was sailing southward from a port on the Black Sea, or somewhere in the vicinity of Constantinople, on her last voyage.

Yassiada Wrecks

YASSIADA WRECKS. Drawing of the reconstructed Byzantine ship. (Copyright INA)

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Lying slightly deeper (36–42 m), about 100 m south of Yassiada, is a Late Roman wreck of the late fourth or early fifth century. It was partially excavated by the University Museum in 1967 and 1969. A later excavation in 1974, by the Institute of Nautical Archaeology, was halted by the out-break of hostilities on Cyprus (Van Doorninck, 1976). The ship was 19 m long, with a length-to-beam ratio of 3:1. Its hull, mostly of cypress, but with a keel of white oak, was built in the shell-first Greco-Roman manner. Its pegged mortise-and-tenon joints were weaker and farther apart than those of most earlier vessels, however, although not so widely spaced as the unpegged joints of the later seventh-century ship (see above). These factors, and evidence for the early erection of half frames amidships to help the ship-wright shape the hull, provide further proof of a slow evolution toward modern, frame-first construction. The ship's anchors have not been found. It carried about eleven hundred amphoras in its hold. The stern yielded Late Roman plates, a dish, a bowl, pitchers, a cup, cooking pots, and two large storage vessels; four terra-cotta lamps found there, of types made in the late fourth through early fifth centuries, one with the impressed signature of a known Athenian workshop that flourished at the time, provide the approximate date for the ship's sinking. Excavation deeper into the sloping seabed would surely reveal other artifacts that tumbled downslope as the ship disintegrated.

During the excavation of the second wreck, a previously unknown Ottoman hull that overlay part of it and nearly reached the seventh-century wreck was partly uncovered. The Institute of Nautical Archaeology, now affiliated with Texas A&M University, subsequently excavated it, under the direction of Cemal Pulak, in 1983. The ship was about 20 m long and built of oak. It was initially dated by a coin of Philip II to the sixteenth century. Its construction is now dated more precisely, by the dendrochronology of its keel, to sometime after 1572. It was almost barren of artifacts save for tools, glazed bowls like some from Çanakkale on the Asian side of the Dardanelles, lead shot, and both stone and cast-iron cannonballs (the last suggesting that this was a naval vessel, perhaps a supply ship, that was salvaged before being abandoned).

A Roman helmet of a type dated to the late third or second century BCE, found close to shore on the same side of the island, is matched by a helmet in Turkey's Bodrum Museum of Underwater Archaeology. A sponge diver brought the museum's helmet from an unknown location, very likely Yassiada, which is a site commonly worked by sponge divers. The two helmets suggest that a warship is hidden under the sand.

Bibliography

  • Bass, George F. “Underwater Archaeology: Key to History's Ware-house.” National Geographic 124 (July 1963): 138–156.
    Popular account of the excavation of the seventh-century wreck
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  • Bass, George F. “New Tools for Undersea Archaeology.” National Geographic 134 (September 1968): 402–423.
    Popular account of the excavation of the fourth-century wreck
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  • Bass, George F., and Frederick H. van Doorninck, Jr. “A Fourth-Century Shipwreck at Yassi Ada.” American Journal of Archaeology 75 (1971): 27–37.
  • Bass, George F. Archaeology Beneath the Sea. New York, 1975.
    Popular account of the excavations of the fourth- and seventh-century wrecks. (see pp. 61–205)
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  • Bass, George F., and Frederick H. van Doorninck, Jr. Yassi Ada, vol. 1, A Seventh-Century Byzantine Shipwreck. College Station, Texas, 1982.
    Definitive excavation report
    .
  • Throckmorton, Peter. History from the Sea: Shipwrecks and Archaeology. London, 1987. (Published in the United States as The Sea Remembers: Shipwrecks and Archaeology [New York, 1991].)
    Describes and illustrates some of the finds from the seventh-century and Ottoman shipwrecks at Yassiada
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  • van Doorninck, Frederick H., Jr. “The Fourth-Century Wreck at Yassi Ada: An Interim Report on the Hull.” International Journal of Nautical Archaeology 5 (1976): 115–131.

George F. Bass