Bilkent Archaeologist Dates Ottoman Fort

Dr. Julian Bennett, assistant professor in the Department of Archaeology, is the first archaeologist to use dendrochronology to accurately date an artifact from the Ottoman Era in the Ukraine. Bennett, who leads the architectural survey of the Ottoman fortress known as the Akkerman Project, sought to accurately date the Ottoman site (which could have been built in a range of several hundred years) using original timber from the construction. Using archaeological techniques in a historical project is a rare occurrence because the disciplines are usually distinguished by the use of documents. Dating the Akkerman project is a remarkable example of interdisciplinary teamwork.

The Ottoman Turks captured the fort from Moldavia on 5th August 1484, under the personal direction of Sultan Beyaz─▒t II, after which time it became known as Akkerman. The capture of the site resulted in the Black Sea becoming an "Ottoman Lake" for much of the next 300 years. Akkerman became a formidable and vitally important link in a chain of fortresses protecting Istanbul and the Ottoman heartlands from invaders from the north.

From Ottoman documents, historians know generally that the Ottomans modified the original Moldavian defences to resist any attempts at recapture, either by the Moldavians or by the Russians. However, there appeared to be no historical way to date the defences. With no written records specifically identifying the areas of enhancement, the team turned to archaeological methods to date the purely Ottoman additions.

Archaeologists and historians use different methods to discover the past. Generally, historians use documents as sources of dates and events. For example, historians know that British parliamentarianism began in 1215 with the signing of Magna Carta, a dated document. Archaeologists use more indirect forms of dating, for example position of artifacts in strata with other artifacts and stylistic consistency. To positively establish a date, for example, archaeologists use carbon dating, which is not precise, and dendrochronology, tree-ring dating method.

Bennett's survey of the fortress defences revealed a newer wall with battlements some 1.5 meters above the original battlement level. According to Bennett, "This seemed to be the most likely candidate for the length of wall referred to as being heightened in the winter of 1485, although at first there seemed no way to prove that this was the case. However, careful examination of this length of heightened walling showed that some of the wooden scaffold posts used in its construction still survived, allowing them to be dated by the dendrochronology."

Cornell University performed the tests, which confirmed the information in the Ottoman document. The timber used in the building was cut down in 1484 and 1485, and the team could reliably identify which parts of the fort are Ottoman and which predated the capture. This helps expand knowledge of the history of the early days of the Ottoman Empire (1453-1923).

This is the first time that dendrochronology has been used to date an Ottoman site in the Ukraine. More importantly, "This is an example of how archaeology and the study of historical documents go together in helping us better understand the past."

Dr. Bennett has been a member of the Bilkent archaeology faculty since 1995. He is the author of Trajan: Optimus Princeps and Roman Towns in Britain.

For more information on the Akkerman Project, visit: