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Historians had believed modern-day Istanbul was first settled around 700 BC.

However, a grave that has been recently discovered at the site of a rail project instantaneously added 6000 years to Istanbul’s history.

“We found the grave, pots and other artifacts. There were signs of houses made of tree-branches and next to the settlement was a swamp where we found small tools, wooden pieces and bones,” explains Ismail Karamut, head of the Istanbul Archaeology museum, which is leading the dig.

“It all shows there was a Neolithic settlement here in the historic peninsula of Istanbul where people lived, farmed and fished,” he adds.

The Neolithic era – when man abandoned the nomadic, hunting lifestyle and settled to farm the land and raise cattle – began east of here, gradually carrying the foundations of “civilised” life west, to Europe. The new find in Istanbul helps map that transition.

“Neolithic culture changed as it moved west. Not all of what we call the ‘Neolithic package’ was transferred,” explains Professor Mehmet Ozdogan of Istanbul University.

“Domesticated animals and some of the cereal crops came, but mud brick became wooden architecture, settlements were re-organised. The transformation is important to understand the Neolithic culture in Europe. Every new site adds data to the picture.”

The team’s first major discovery was a section of the first city walls, believed to date back to Constantine I.

As anticipated, they also uncovered a 4th Century port – once the busiest in Byzantium – and the stunningly well-preserved remains of more than 30 wooden ships, many wrecked in storms in the 10th and 11th centuries.

“We’re expecting to find more – maybe a small settlement,” Yasar Anilir explains. “We have to remove the Byzantine ships first, then we can complete our dig.”

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