Tavşan Adasi / Rabbit Island Excavations

Myndos’ Rabbit Island Patrickneil 26-04-2005 CC BY-SA 3.0 (Cropped)

Even though the excavations of 2005 – 2006 had been successful the General Directorate of Monuments and Museums either refused or withdrew the permit for Uludağ University Archaeological Unit to excavate in 2007.

Excavation permits were not issued for 2008 either, but in May 2008 permission was granted for excavations to recommence in 2009 on Rabbit Island.

Initially the excavations were to be concentrated on what has been presumed to be a medieval fort or watchtower on the summit, and the terraced area just below the summit where pieces of monumental masonry, possibly dating to the classical period, had been previously identified.

Excavation of the summit started with a modest 4m x 3m trench, but it soon became apparent that the fort / watchtower had been constructed over an earlier building and the excavation was extended to include the whole of the floor area within the “fort” uncovering a mosaic floor, entrance steps and a second floor of terracotta tiles, it also became obvious that the earlier building was on a slightly different alignment to the later medieval structure.

The Wall Lines of The Basilica on a Different Alignment to the Outer Walls of the Mediaeval Fort 

Smaller finds included coins and fragments of carved marble frieze depicting a hunting scene with horse and lion. These finds combined with the alignment of the building and the design of the mosaic floor, has led the archaeologists to propose that they have uncovered an early Christian church dating from the 5th century AD.  Furthermore the discovery of what are described as “stairs of purple slabs”, the colour purple at time being associated with the imperial family, suggests that the church may have been the seat of a Bishop. There is written evidence of the title Bishop of Myndos dating back to at least 431 AD when Bishop Archelaus of Myndos attended the First Council of Ephesus.

The excavations indicated that the church could have been in use until the 12th century when it was damaged by an earthquake, the team found no evidence of the church being repaired after the earthquake, The Catholic Encyclopaedia while not mentioning the earthquake states that there are references to the diocese in the Notitiae epsicopatuum, (a document that lists and ranks the sitting bishops) up until the 12th or 13th century.

The archaeologists reported that the few constructions on the island dating from the 13th century were rudimental, and suggest that the area may have been devastated by the earthquake leaving the population in an impoverished state.

The other area of the island to be excavated was the crescent shaped terrace area below the rock outcrop on which the church and later fort or watchtower were built

In the section of the terrace overlooking the entrance channel to the harbour the archaeologists uncovered a number of rectangular features which are believed to be cisterns, the walls are lined or tiled and have either rock slab or clay tile floors, the design and construction of one the end walls indicates that at least one of the cisterns originally had a vaulted roof. The report also mentions that Byzantine column inscribed with a cross and a “kuyu ağzı bileziği” were found during the dig and are presumed to be associated with the cisterns. I have struggled to find a definitive translation for “kuyu ağzı bileziği”, which could also be why the phrase isn’t translated in my copy of the report; my best guess is that it could be a collar or cylindrical structure that was set into the roof of cistern through which the water would be drawn.   

The team also excavated a possible kitchen area with terracotta tiled floors with a tandoor oven they also identified a canal which may have fed the cisterns.

During this phase of the dig the team recorded ceramic sherds dating from the classical period, bronze byzantine coins and domestic pottery along with a piece of marble from an alter with a carved girland-boukranion motif (a bull’s head surrounded by a garland of leaves or flowers) and what is intriguingly described as “a device used during the long jump event...” one possibility is that it is a haltere one of the hand held weights that were used in early long jump competitions.

Below the church on the southern side of the island the team discovered nine tombs / burials dating from the 5th to 11th century.

Area Where the Burials Were Excavated

Three of the tombs were aligned North-South while the others are aligned East-West, this was thought to be due to physical and geological restrictions and not of any religious or cultural significance.  Other differences were found, some were brick built in the Byzantine style other were constructed of stone masonry which had been rendered, additionally some of the tombs had stone floor tiles, one had a ceramic tile floor whilst others were just compressed earth or bare rock.

The tombs contained the remains of men, women and children, some were interred side by side whilst at least one was a communal tomb as the archaeologists could see that previous remains had been collected and placed to one side to accommodate subsequent burials.

Nails found during the excavation of the tombs suggest that some of the bodies were interred in wooden coffins. A number of grave goods were found with the burials, three Byzantine coins were found in one tomb and three ceramic lamps in another.

Other grave goods included, belt buckles, domestic pottery, the remains of a Byzantine chain and the neck of an unguenterium from the late Roman period (unguentaria have been associated with funerary deposits from the Hellenistic through to the Roman period).

The reports for 2010 and 2011 are a little difficult to decipher and I strongly recommend that any Turkish readers go to the University web site for the detailed excavation results. 


Excavations continued on the summit to discover to what extent the foundations of the church could be still be identified, by the end of the season’s excavations they seemed fairly confident that they had found evidence of a third aisle.

During the excavations of the walls pottery fragments from the Hellenistic (323 -146 BC) and Late Antiquity (4th–6th century AD) were found but with no discernible stratigraphy delineating the two periods. The archaeologists have suggested two possible scenarios which might have resulted in pottery sherds from two distinct periods being mixed together.

a.         The church could be built on the site of an older Hellenistic temple that had gone out use and material from the temple area had been reused in the construction of the church.

b.         The church did not replace an earlier temple and the material had been imported from other areas of the island or the city which had fallen into disuse.

The team also uncovered a 3m wide paved walkway/road running east – west leading up to towards the summit. The relationship between the walkway and the church is difficult to determine from the translation, it is possible that foundations of the medieval fort have cut through the pathway close to the summit, masking or destroying any evidence that it connected directly to the church.

Walkway Leading Towards the Summit

There is a reference to a building which may be a kitchen, and is possibly the building excavated in 2009 where a “tandoor oven” was identified, in which case it is on the lower terrace on the north side of the island. Excavation revealed that the base of the oven / furnace had been repaired or possibly rebuilt suggesting use over a prolonged period.   

The lower terrace was originally identified for excavation as there were a number of monumental marble pieces dating from an earlier period were clearly visible on the surface. In 2009 the team reported that they were unsure if these were sections of classical architectural debris being reused during later periods or whether they were the remains of an existing structure on the island. In 2010 during further excavations of the “kitchen” and an adjacent cistern it was discovered that they had been constructed over, or had used part of, an existing earlier pre Christian temple in their construction, the a marble base of a temple alter, which could date from the 4th or 5th century BC, is clearly visible below the later features.

Temple Excavation

There were a number of press reports during 2010 describing how a several beans, believed to 1600 years old, had been discovered during the excavation. The media reports all seemed to suggest that the beans were associated with burials. However a report published in 2012 which details the results of DNA analysis of the beans(1) states that the beans were found in a clay pot located in a possible kitchen area of a one room Byzantine building, dating from around the 5th century AD.

A total of 7 beans were subjected to germination trials, 6 of the 7 beans were found to be viable and although they could not be germinated naturally the team were successful in germinating tissue using an in vitro method. Using DNA sampling techniques the beans were identified as seeds of the Anagyris foetida more commonly known as the Stinking Bean Trefoil, Bean Clover or Mediterranean Stink Bush, a deciduous shrub which flowers from Nov to Apr. The beans are toxic but may be associated with herbal medicines. I have found one reference to its use as a treatment for diarrhoea in a book titled “A Cretan Healer's Handbook in the Byzantine Tradition”; however one plant website I found suggests the direct opposite, as it proposes that the beans can be used as an emetic, a laxative and a purgative which can also be used to worm livestock.

There seems to have been a further examination of the remains found in the 12 tombs / burials excavated in 2009, I found one reference to an examination of the remains by Burdur University Anthropology department who estimated that the individuals were aged between 4 and 40 years old. Press reports from late 2010 and early 2011 carried pictures of a skull and two 6 to 8 cm nails and speculated that one or more of the bodies found in the burials had been ritually executed by having a nail driven into the skull prior to decapitation. The 2010 web report proposes that rather than being a tool of execution the nails may have been used to display the decapitated head.

Roman persecution of Christians ended with the Edict of Milan in 313 AD and the Council of Nicaea issued the Nicene Creed in 325 making Christianity the religion of the Roman Empire. The fact that the remains are associated with the church could suggest that they belong to an early Christian martyr, it would be interesting to know if the remains have been carbon dated as they may pre date the construction of the church which is thought to have been constructed in the 5th or 6th century.

 In 2011 the archaeologists concentrated their effort in two main areas: 3 trenches were opened on the north side of the island adjacent to the temple foundations uncovered in 2010 and 7 trenches were opened on the lower level behind the church, facing  Çavus Island to the west.

See the link below to the trench map on the Uludağ University web site for the 2011 excavations. The map is orientated approximately west - east with trenches C1 & D1 overlooking the entrance to the harbour

There is a fairly comprehensive description of the excavations available on the UU website and very detailed report (53 pages with maps and lots of photographs) published by the Turkish Department of Culture and Tourism

The three trenches on the north side of the island revealed:

A  room where fragments of a wreath of honour, possibly dedicated to Artemis (daughter of Zeus and Apollo’s twin), sherds of a Megarian hemispherical bowl with a depiction of Eros and piece of glazed Chinese Celadon ware. The wreath fragments and Megarian sherds date from the Late Classical and Hellenistic periods and are assumed to be part of the backfill used during the construction. The Chinese glazed ware is dated to the 11th –13th century A.D. which the report suggests is a demonstration of access to a wider trading network at this point in the city’s history.

Another room which has layers of coloured plaster still preserved in places, eight coins were found in situ on, or close to, the original floor surface along with fragments of figurines and glass lamp bases the dating of which suggests that  that structure dates from the Byzantine period.

Further finds dating from the Late Classical and Hellenistic periods were uncovered, including a mould used in the manufacture of ceramic items indicating the possibility of an earlier pottery workshop in the area.

Seven trenches were opened on seaward side of the island, described in the report as “Behind the Tower of Power”

Trenches 2,4,6 & 8 revealed the western foundations of the church, confirming the presence of the third aisle, they also revealed two cisterns, a marble grave stele, a piece of “rare” Pompeian red/Burgundy marble which may have been part of an altar table or similarly important artefact in the church.

The nature, stratigraphy and proposed dating of the items recovered from the fill of the cistern in Trench 8 has led the team to propose that the church fell in to disuse half way through the 7th century. This date for the decline of the church is considerably earlier than originally thought; previous reports suggested that the church may have succumbed to the same earthquake which destroyed the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus around the 12th century.

Trenches 1,3 & 5 were opened to the north of the cistern excavated in trench 2.. These helped to further define the relationship between the two phases of building i.e. the basilica and the later medieval fortress. The excavations also uncovered more evidence of limestone processing, a room / building contemporary with the church a section of tessellated floor, a coin from Thessaly (2 BC?) and  pieces of a glass oil lamp.

Although there was some activity on the island, as far as I’m aware no reports have been for the 2012 – 2014 seasons.

In 2013 there were a number of press reports regarding an inscription found on the island that bore the name Myndos and dedication by the Roman Emperor Marcus UlpiusTraianus. Other reports suggested that a temple had been found which was dedicated to the Emperor Marcus UlpiusTraianus.

Professor Şahin, in an article published in 2014, was a little more cautious stating that an inscription from the second half of the first century had been found which was a dedication “for Marcus could be Ulpius Traianus” to Apollo Archegetes. This has led the archaeologists to propose that there was a sanctuary dedicated to Apollo Archegetes as the founder and patron of Myndos. There is also the suggestion that Apollo Archegetes may also be mentioned on an alter found on the island.

I’m no expert on Roman epigraphy but the Emperor Trajan, born Marcus Ulpius Traianus, changed his name following his adoption by the Emperor Nerva, and once Trajan became emperor he was known as either Ceasar Divi Nervae Filius Nerva Traianus Optimus Augistus or Caesar Nerva Traianus Germanicus.

As Marcus, the only name that Prof Şahin confirms, it is unlikely to have be used once Trajan became emperor, this could suggest that the dedication was made before that time, alternatively;  the inscription may have been made on behalf of Trajan’s father who was also named  Marcus Ulpius Traianus and was the Governor of Asia AD 79-80.

It seems likely that the excavations on the island are now drawing to close and comments have been made that site could be open to the public in 2018. However the excavations cover the majority of the island and allowing access to the site without damaging the archaeology will be a major challenge.

One possible solution using lightweight steps and decking was proffered by members of Uludağ University’s departments of architecture and archaeology. Their findings were presented at the 4th International Conference of New Horizons in Education and a copy of their paper can be downloaded via the link below.

 (1)  Murat Özgen, Aslı Özdilek, Melahat A. Birsin, Sertaç Önde, Derya Şahin, Esvet Açıkgöz and Zeki Kaya (2012). Analysis of ancient DNA from in vitro grown tissues of 1600-year-old seeds revealed the species as Anagyris foetida. Seed Science Research, 22, pp 279-286. Doi:10.1017/S0960258512000207.

Summit Looking Towards Bozdağ – Remains of Basilica Walls in the Foreground

Monumental Marbles 2010

View Towards Temple Site

Marble Base of the Temple

Base of the Temple Structure

Monumental Marble Possibly Part of the Temple Alter

Cistern With Steps

View From the Summit on to the Area Where The Burials Were Found

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