Submerged Ancient Greek City With Long-Lost Tombs Revealed by Drought

After months of drought, the submerged remains of an ancient Greek city have been uncovered in modern-day Turkey. The receding water of the Bayramiç Dam in Çanakkale has revealed the ruins of a 1,500-year-old church and bathhouse belonging to the city of Skepsis.

Skepsis has been known about for some time, but for the past 30 years it has largely been buried by the dam's water. The city is thought to be at least 2,500 years old and was built in what was then known as Anatolia, later Asia Minor, the Asian portion of modern-day Turkey.

"Skepsis, although its foundation dates back to the first millennium B.C., appears as an important Greek police city in the Archaic period," Oğuz Koçyiğit, a professor at Çanakkale Onsekiz Mart University who has been studying the ruins, told Newsweek.

"It was a wealthy city in the region of northwest Turkey with its own temple, agora and other public buildings that minted coins in the ancient Troas region," Koçyiğit said.

Skepsis, also known as Scepsis, is thought to have been the home of Aristotle's famous library for two centuries and spawned several notable Greek figures, such as the grammarian Demetrius of Skepsis.

The city gained prominence in the fourth and fifth centuries, during the Byzantine period, which is when archaeologists believe the church and baths were built.

"Among the ruins that have survived from Skepsis, the remains of the bath and church, which are understood to belong to the Byzantine period, are important," Koçyiğit said. "From these ruins, information can be obtained about the bathing habits and the architecture of the baths related to the Byzantine period. In addition, we can make inferences about Roman and Byzantine daily life, religious and social life."

He continued: "The most important structures that have been exposed due to the decreasing water level of the dam, due to the dry and hot weather experienced in recent years, are the Byzantine bath and church in the lower city and the tombs in the necropolis."

The tombs of the necropolis—the city's cemetery—are older than the baths and church and date back to the Hellenistic period, between the death of Alexander the Great in 323 B.C. and the rise of the Roman empire in 31 B.C. Koçyiğit said that these tombs provide data about the burial habits of the city's inhabitants and who might have lived there.

Ancient Greek ruins in Turkey
A stock image shows partially submerged ancient Greek ruins in Turkey. The receding water of a Turkish dam has revealed the ruins of a 1,500-year-old church and bathhouse belonging to the ancient Greek city of Scepsis (not pictured). JackF/Getty

Çanakkale's Bayramiç Dam was built in the late 21st century and is heavily relied upon by local farming and industrial facilities. "Due to the needs of the region, the dam lake also needs to hold water, so the structures remain underwater," Koçyiğit said.

However, because of a lack of rainfall, the dam now contains just 10 percent of its maximum water capacity. While this is great news for the archaeologists, it is also putting extra strain on local food production. Turkey is one of many countries suffering from severe drought after an unusually hot summer.

Around the world, retreating water has unveiled long-lost treasures, from dinosaur footprints on the bed of the Paluxy River in Texas to a prehistoric stone circle in rural Spain, dubbed the Spanish Stonehenge.

While these discoveries are exciting from a historical perspective, the extent of the droughts in these regions threatens food production and water security. As global temperatures continue to increase, these droughts are only expected to get worse.

Update 12/2/2022, 9:15 a.m. ET: This story was updated to include comments from Oğuz Koçyiğit.

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