Archeologists find one of Christianity’s most important sites & plan to open underwater museum

Friday, September 7, 2018
By Paul Martin

RT.com
7 Sep, 2018

A chance discovery by a team of archeologists in Turkey may have revealed one of the most significant sites in the history of Christianity after years of fruitless searching. And they’re now planning an underwater museum.

When Constantine I, the first Roman Emperor to convert to Christianity, chaired the ecumenical Council of Nicaea in 325 AD, bishops from across the world descended on Lake Ascanius to iron out divisions in the early Christian church. The modern-day lake, Lake Iznik in Turkey, has for years been the focus of archeologists trying to find treasures from that ancient time.

Now it turns out, what they had been searching for was right in front of them the whole time. And they finally found it thanks to some new aerial photographs commissioned by the government of Bursa province. The snaps clearly revealed the structure of a church submerged underwater.

Turkish archeologist Mustafa Şahin, who is the head of archaeology at Bursa Uludağ University, has been undertaking field surveys of the lake since 2006, but had never discovered the church. The ironic thing was, according to Şahin, the Bursa City Hall photography team had been capturing aerial photographs of the lake since 2013, “but hadn’t thought of contacting any expert.”

“So when they started capturing aerial pictures of the lake again, team member Saffet Yilmaz contacted me and asked if the remains of the structure might have meant something,” he said, adding that it was a shock to see the structure of a church so clearly in the images.

Şahin believes the location of the church ruins could mark the site where the First Council of Nicaea was held nearly 1700 years ago. He also believes it marks the spot where Saint Neophytos was martyred in 303 AD — and that the church could have been built to honor him.

Archeologists say there is also evidence that an earlier temple dedicated to the Greek and Roman god Apollo could have been located underneath.

An earthquake in 740 AD destroyed the church and caused it to sink below the lake — about two or three meters below the surface and 50 meters from the shore.

“The hardest part of the underwater excavation is that visibility sometimes drops under 10cm because of intense algae and plankton activity,” Şahin said. Waves hitting archeologists as they try to work is another problem, so they take the soil from the site and sift through it on the shore instead.

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