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HSE Archaeologists Make Significant Discovery during Excavations in Agrigento

In 2019, HSE will begin accepting students to its new Master's programme in Classical and Oriental Archaeology for the first time. Prior to admission, however, prospective students had the opportunity to participate in an archaeological school in Sicily, where they discovered rare bronze phialae dating back to the 6th century BC during the excavations.

Who Went to Sicily

The two-week school organized by the HSE Institute for Oriental and Classical Studies and held on May 1-12 was part of an international archaeological expedition in Agrigento organised by the University of Bordeaux-Montaigne and HSE, with the participation of the University of Wisconsin–Madison, USA.

At the school, prospective students of the Master's programme in Classical and Oriental Archaeology implemented in partnership with the University of Bordeaux-Montaigne, got to work alongside experienced archaeologists. All programme fees, including transportation, housing and food, were covered by HSE.

Where They Excavated

The colony of Agrigento was founded ca. 580 BC jointly by the city of Gela in Sicily and Rhodes, and it quickly became one of the largest urban centres of the island and the ancient world in general. Now the Valley of Temples in Agrigento is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

This year, one of the temples of the sanctuary, known as the tempietto (small temple), as well as a section of the defensive wall of Akragas, adjacent to the sanctuary, were excavated.

In addition, participants began an architectural study of the sanctuary structures, including the famous Temple of Castor and Pollux (Tempio dei Dioscuri), the reconstruction of which was completed in the 19th century and is often questioned. To a large extent, the study will rely on three-dimensional photogrammetric models, which Yuri Svoyski and Ekaterina Romanenko began developing on the basis of the material they collected during the expedition work.

What the Participants Studied

Each day of the school featured lectures, excursions to ancient monuments, and excavations.

The school programme commenced with a lecture by Askold Ivantchik on the history of the Greek colonies in Sicily from the Archaic period to the period of Roman Principate. Nikolai Sudarev (Institute of Archeology, Russian Academy of Sciences) gave a lecture on the Greek colonization of Asian Bosporus.

Professor Reine-Marie Bérard from the French National Centre for Scientific Research (Marseille) spoke about the archaeology of funerary objects and presented her findings about materials discovered at the necropolis of the Greek colony Megara Hyblaea, located on the east coast of Sicily. Later on, school participants got the opportunity to visit the colony themselves.

Laurence Cavalier, Head of the Archaeological Mission of the University of Bordeaux Montaigne in Agrigento, and Professor Jacques des Courtils (University of Bordeaux-Montaigne) gave lectures on antique architecture.

Yuri Svoyski (Higher School of Economics) gave a presentation on photogrammetry, 3-D modelling andgeo-information systems, in which he presented the initial findings of his study of the Temple of Castor and Pollux of Akragas. 

Emilie Cayre (University of Bordeaux Montaigne) delivered a lecture on methods of excavation and recording archaeological data, and Sofiane Djerad (University of Bordeaux Montaigne) discussed methods of field documentation of Greek architectural details and organised a workshop at the excavation site.

Marielle Bernier from University of Bordeaux Montaigne discussed the ins and outs of working with antique ceramics both in theory and in practice.

The participants went on excursions to the  Villa del Casale (included in the UNESCO World Heritage List of 1997 and famous for its Roman time mosaics), the ancient sites of Syracuse, the Greek colony of Selinunte, and the city of Segesta, founded by a local tribe of Elymians in West Sicily.

What They Found

Groups of Russian, French and American students researched various excavation sites in Agrigento. While removing the cultural layer, they discovered votive lamps and terracotta figurines. But their main discovery was something else— a large complex consisting of 28 bronze phialae of different sizes and shapes dating back to the 6th century BC. Bronze phialae of the archaic period are quite rare, so the discovery was a real sensation. The phialae were served as an offering to the deity whom the small temple honours. The discovery was so significant that it was covered by the Italian media.

The expedition to Agrigento is only one of many archaeological projects conducted by the Institute for Oriental and Classical Studies. The researchers also go on expeditions to Olbia (Ukraine), the Taman Peninsula (Russia), the lower reaches of the Kodori Gorge (Abkhazia), the lower reaches of the Rioni River (Georgia), Panjakent (Tajikistan), and the Janken settlement (the Aral sea region, Kazakhstan). They also plan to organize expeditions to Iraq, Turkey, and Greece.

In 2019 HSE will launch a new Master's programme in Classical and Oriental Archaeology. The programme will be taught in Russian. International students can apply online.

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