Çiftlik Rescue Evacuations

Location: near Sinop; Sinop Province

Years: 1993-1998, 2000-2001

Director: Stephen Hill

Participants: Jeffrey Hilton, Fuat Dereli, Richard Bayliss, Gina Coulthard, Emma Hill, Fiona Hill, Rupert Howell, Daniel Smith, Brian Williams, Mark Gillings (1994), Stephen Compton (1995), Jonathan Godfrey (1995), Keith Jordan (1995), Anthony Kirby (1995), Samantha Jones (1995), Penny McParlin (1995), Kay Rainsley (1995), Les Rainsley (1995), Hale Özen (1996-1998, 2001), Martin Bradley (1996), Ian Clarke (1997), Bianca Madden, Jake Wilson (1998), Peter Creffield (2000), Laurence Bowkett (2000-2001), Musa Özcan (2001)

Funding: BIAA, University of Warwick, Society for Promotion of Hellenic Studies, Devlet Su İşleri


In 1993, the BIAA initiated a rescue excavation project at a Classical and Byzantine site near Çiftlik (near Sinop on the Black Sea coast), which was in danger of being eroded and destroyed by the sea.  It was a collaborative effort carried out by members of the BIAA, Sinop Museum, and University of Warwick.  The team of researchers focused specifically on two structures: Balat Kilise (in Sinop) and an early Byzantine church (in Çiftlik).  The former proved to be a large Roman imperial building, later converted into a church and still containing Byzantine wall-paintings.  It was measured and studied, and preparations were made for future drawings and producing new, more exact plans.  The church at Çiftlik was being worn by coastal erosion, so – beyond preparing for a rescue excavation – they created plans for those areas already under water.  It appeared to display evidence for two different construction periods.

In August 1994 two buildings and some traces of ancient wharfs could be seen at the site; the south building was designated as the main priority of the season.  Though they had hoped to understand more about the building as a whole, more pressing matters were discovered upon arriving at the site: erosion had cut through the building and exposed a mosaic floor, which was removed immediately to Sinop Museum for preservation.  The north building was also found in an insecure situation, in danger even of slipping off the cliff.  Some excavation work was done on the south building as well, which revealed stylobates of collonades and some subsidiary chambers on the north side of the church.  Fragments and architecture suggested a lengthy occupation for this building, which was assumed to be a church.  Since the first season had been necessarily devoted to the mosaic floor, plans for a geophysical survey in surrounding areas and of the building plans as a whole were put off until the following year. 

The third season commenced in August 1995, with the discovery that some 7m of the site had been washed away, including the area that had housed the mosaic.  Geophysical survey was continued on the northern part of the site, and the southern building (established as being an early Byzantine church) underwent further excavation.  Some fine mosaic floors and wall decorations as well as part of a column were found in the course of excavation.  The church was determined to have been originally a 500m2 building (though some 40% had been eroded away) in use between the fifth and 14th centuries AD, displaying an interesting building plan with few known parallels.  Some underwater exploration gave reason to believe that in addition to its issues with coastal erosion, the site might also be sinking; a sandbag barrage was erected in the effort to minimise erosion’s effects.  The remains of a church in Hacioğlu village were also investigated, as well as some ancient bridge remains between Çiftlik and Sinop, and Çiftlik and Demirciköy.

In 1996 the geological survey of the site and nearby regions continued, as did work on the southern church.  The survey revealed that while erosion of the cliffs in the area was continuing, it appeared to be abating and that the architectural structures could likely be preserved in situ.  In order to stablise the situation at the site, however, a concrete wall replaced the sand bags for protection.  The church and its precinct was planned in entirety, and was found to bear resemblances not to other buildings in Asia Minor, but to early Byzantine churches along the Black Sea, including some in Bulgaria.  Researchers at Korucuk found a building with mosaics, and it was hoped that this discovery would help put the church into its regional context – answering questions about whether the architecture and designs were locally produced, or somehow exceptional.

In August and September 1997 fieldwork at Çiftlik continued, with the main objective being the investigation of the relationship between the church and its precinct.  A building was found in the precinct, contemporary with the church and yielding some ceramic finds and coins.  An excavated section in the southwest area showed that landslides were responsible for interrupting both the construction and the usage of the church and precinct building; this explanation helps to account for the church’s unworn floor mosaic, its unfinished mouldings, and the absence of a footpath or courtyard pavement.  Further work was done to ensure the site’s protection from erosion.  A tragedy of the season was the passing of Ian Clarke, a talented young surveyor who had contracted meningitis whilst working at Çiftlik. 

The 1998 season was concerned with both excavation and conservation.  Work on the church continued to confirm the landslide hypothesis, and yielded also the interesting discovery of what could have only been a baptismal font designed for full immersion.  The entire church was explored by season’s end, and artefacts pointed to the existence of an earlier church at the same site – though the absence of inscriptions and other evidence left it unclear as to why the church had been built here, and what precise function it was meant to fill (a monastery or cult centre were posited as possibilities).  The conservation effort was focused on the mosaic which had been removed to Sinop Museum, and it was fully recreated and successfully set into the garden there in a recreated version of the ancient lime mortar.  Lastly, the team ended up providing assistance to the Sinop Museum team as they undertook an emergency rescue excavation at Gelincik, where another fine mosaic was found and removed.

A study season at Sinop Museum took place in August 2000, with two short visits made to the site itself to assess its condition (deemed to be mostly good, since the protective wall had been reinforced during the previous season).  The Demirci site was also visited, and it was with interest that researchers noted evidence of landslide and earthquake damage there.  Ceramic material and glass were the main focus of museum studies, and a wide range of fine and slipware potteries was noted.  The dates of coins and fine wares coincided with the landslide hypothesis; the finds pointed to the fact that the site ceased to be used industrially after the second landslide.  The excavation site was registered as a national heritage site, thanks to the efforts of the Sinop Museum staff. 

Post-excavation study, based at Sinop Museum, continued into 2001.  Coarse ceramic finds were a particular point of focus, providing additional evidence that the church had been used as an industrial site once it was no longer used in ecclesiastically.  The forms found at Çiftlik appeared to be linked to those from Demirci, and it appeared clear that the pottery had been manufactured on-site.  Further investigation into the church’s stonework showed that columns, capitals, and other material from an earlier structure (perhaps a pagan temple) had been reused in the construction of the church.           


Anatolian Studies 44: 15-16; 45: 219-231

Anatolian Archaeology 1: 2-3; 2: 4-5; 3: 2-3; 4: 6-7; 6: 3-4; 7: 14


Hill, S. 1995: ‘The firest season of rescue excavations at Çiftlik (Sinop)’ Anatolian Studies 45: 219-231

Belongs to;
Archaeology and Related Disciplines

View other research