Madra Çay Project

Location: near Ayvalık; Balıkesir Province

Years: 1995-2000

Director: Kyriacos Lambrianides, Nigel Spencer

Participants: Kyriacos Lambrianides, Nigel Spencer, Serdar Vardar, Hasan Gümüş, İlhan Kayan, Lynda Carroll (1996) Neriman Ozaydin (1998-99), Mahmut Drahor (2000), Ela Baltutan (2000), Ginny Matthias (2000), Ben Coockson (2000)

Government Representatives: Mehmet Katkat (1995), Neşide Gençer (1996), Osman Ermişler (1997)

Funding: BIAA, Institute for Aegean Prehistory (INSTAP), Leverhulme Trust, British Academy, Wainwright Fund, Craven Committee, Meyerstein Fund, Earthwatch

Website: N/A


The Madra Çay delta archaeological project was begun in 1995 as a collaborative project with team members from Oxford, UCL, and Ege University, comprising a geomorphological survey and borehole sampling on a delta in northwestern Turkey.  The study area was on the Altınova coastal plain between Dikili and Ayvalık, across from the island Lesbos in the Aegean.  The team hoped to understand the region’s economy and lifestyle from the Neolithic to pre-modernity. Their three-fold approach was to research the geomorphology to understand environmental change, to relate this data to phases of human settlement, and to look at the communities’ external relations.  The first season focused on the geomorphological aspect of the research, and a series of boreholes were drilled near Yeni Yeldeğirmentepe and Hüyücektepe between 12 September and 1 October.  Stratified cores were obtained, in a first attempt to understand the diachronic land use in the area and to learn more about the way human settlement evolved.  The project was also successful in determining the delta’s previous coastline positions, and used laboratory analysis to attempt a reconstruction of the environment during different phases of human occupation using the information collected and evidence from the seven boreholes.  A geological survey charted bedrock boundaries as well as geological faults.

The project continued in September and October 1995, drilling more boreholes at seven locations on either side of the Madra Çay river, and obtaining stratified cores.  These cores made possible a reconstruction of the changes undergone by the delta.  Deposits of marine material in some of the holes indicated sea incursions during the Holocene period.  Cultural material was also found, which points to human settlement in the area during early prehistoric times. 

While the geomorphological research continued in September and October 1996, an intensive surface survey was also begun, as was a geological survey across the delta’s hinterland aimed at understanding the relationship between the Neogene and Andesite formations found beneath the deltaic alluvium.  Team members also undertook a topographical survey of two mound sites in the region.  There was systematic surface collection at the mounds at Hüyücektepe and Yeni Yeldeğirmentepe, and artefacts from both pointed to Early Bronze Age occupation, though there was also evidence for Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman settlements.  Mounds at Donbay Tepesi and Makaron Çiftlik were also visited, as was Pandır Tepe, where a Hellenistic acropolis was found.

In 1997 drilling work continued even as excavation work was introduced at Madra Çay, along with remote sensing and architectural study projects.  Three trenches were opened on the Yeni Yeldeğirmentepe mound, and the architecture and material culture it yielded resembled those discovered at the Early Bronze Age site of Thermi on Lesbos.  Geomorphological sondages were also opened there to get a stratigraphic reading down to the base.  Resistivity and magnetometer studies were undertaken nearby.  Pandır Tepe, Başantepe, and Kazan Tepe were prioritised for surface survey in the 1997 season.  Furthermore, a survey in Ayvalık was begun with the intent of recording roads and standing structures and creating maps and photographic records.  A similar survey in the early Ottoman quarters of a village in Altınova was undertaken, as was work in a village cemetery where spolia with Greek inscriptions had been noted.

1998 was largely set aside for study and analysis.  Studies of material culture pointed to cultural connections to communities living in the East Aegean islands.  The late Byzantine and early Ottoman material found in 1997 was drawn and photographed, and comprised an important corpus of materials.  The sediment analysis continued as material from the boreholes was studied and dated.

In September and October 1999 another study season was undertaken, and focused particularly on the Bronze Age material found in previous seasons.  Material was drawn and photographed, and a final report was prepared.  The material stored at the depot in Altınova was also studied and drawn.

A final study season took place in September and October 2000.  The two main areas of focus were to finish the study and illustration of ceramics from the Altınova depot and to finalise publications.  The geomorphological research was prepared for publication, with some of its most interesting findings being human activity happening at very early times on the delta.  Conclusions from recent climate and environmental pattern studies were also produced. 


Anatolian Studies 46: 167-200

Anatolian Archaeology 1: 21; 2: 25-26; 3: 18-19; 4: 24; 5: 18; 6: 18


Lambrianides, K., Spencer, N. 2007: Madra River Delta: Regional Studies on the Aegean Coast of Turkey 1: Environment, Society and Community from Prehistory to the Present. BIAA Monograph 35

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