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Regular version of the site

Italy, Turkey, and Abkhazia: Outcomes of 2021 HSE IOCS Archaeological Expeditions

Italy, Turkey, and Abkhazia: Outcomes of 2021 HSE IOCS Archaeological Expeditions

© HSE University

This year’s field season is over, and despite the difficulties caused by the pandemic, archaeologists from the Centre of Classical and Oriental Archaeology at the Institute for Oriental and Classical Studies (IOCS) were able to undertake their scheduled expeditions to Italy, Turkey, and Abkhazia. The Centre is the only Russian institution that conducts regular archaeological research in the Mediterranean region—the heart of ancient civilization, where neither Soviet nor Russian classical archaeologists have ever worked before.

July: Turkey

In July, the Centre of Classical and Oriental Archaeology launched a new project to study Parion, an ancient city located on the southern coast of the Marmara Sea. This is the first time that a Russian archaeological mission has worked in Turkey.

Founded by Greek colonists at the end of the 8th century BC, Parion existed until at least the 12th century. It was an important centre of the ancient Troad region, especially during Hellenistic and Roman times. However, despite the historical importance of the city and the fact that its ruins impressed travellers back in the 18th century, no systematic archaeological studies of Parion were conducted until 2005.

Since then, an expedition from Samsun University (Turkey) led by Prof. Vedat Kelesh has been conducting excavations there. Prof. Kelesh is also a partner of the HSE expedition. For the past few years, Turkish archaeologists have unearthed and studied the Parion theatre, the Odeon, Roman thermae, a gymnasium, and a number of other buildings and structures. Archaeologists also continue to conduct systematic excavations of the necropolis. The HSE expedition undertook the excavation of the Agora—the political, economic, and cultural centre of Parion. The upper layer, which dates back to the 9th–11th centuries, was investigated over an area of about 120 sq m.

The Russian archaeologists discovered a well-preserved house with two rooms and auxiliary structures (a number of such houses were constructed in the Agora at the time of the Byzantine Empire, most of which were built from blocks taken from earlier structures). In addition to a rich and wide variety of ceramic objects, the archaeologists discovered coins, medical instruments, a reliquary (a container for relics), and other valuable artifacts. The archaeologists were also able to study the structural features of byzantine buildings.

The excavation team comprised Askold Ivantchik, Head of the Centre of Classical and Oriental Archaeology, Associate Professor Roman Stoyanov, engineer Yuri Svoyski, Doctoral Student Anton Zaitsev, invited specialists Ekaterina Romanchenko and Lada Semenchenko, and Ömer Fettahoğlu, a student of the IOCS Programme in Classical and Eastern Archaeology.

A large team of HSE students and postgraduates will join the expedition in 2022.

August: Abkhazia

In August, the Centre of Classical and Oriental Archaeology conducted field research in Balan, a settlement in Abkhazia, as part of the Eastern Circum Pontic Region in Antiquity international project (the Kodor Archaeological Expedition). The project is aimed at comprehensively researching the antiquities of the Eastern Black Sea region, studying Greek-Barbarian relations in Colchis, and determining the location of ancient cities.

HSE University is implementing the project in partnership with the D.I. Gulia Abkhazian Institute of Humanitarian Studies, the Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University, the Institute of World History (Russian Academy of Sciences), and the Ausonius Institute of Research on Antiquity and the Middle Ages (Bordeaux, France).

The excavation was mainly carried out on a high hill overlooking the whole area. This is where the Citadel of the ancient settlement is believed to be located. The findings enabled the archaeologists to clarify the chronology and cultural background of the area under research. The site was likely first used by people at the turn of the 6th century BC, and its development continued for the first three quarters of the 6th century BC. A complex of (apparently religious) structures arranged on a terraced plateau protected by a wall dates back to that time. The structures include clay hearths, foundations, and ash pits. This is the only religious complex of its kind in the Eastern Black Sea region. It was abandoned in the last quarter of the 6th century BC, and the territory was not used again until a century later.

Most of the artifacts discovered are local ceramic objects, but fragments of imported table vessels, including painted ones, and amphorae used to transport goods show that local people had contractual relationships with ancient Greeks, while chips of roof tiles suggest that Greek house-building traditions were known in the area. It can be concluded that from the Archaic period, particularly during the Late Classical period and the Hellenistic period, Balan was a major centre in Colchis influenced by Greek traditions. This seems to support the tentative desk study-based association of the site with the Greek colony of Dioscurias, the exact location of which has yet to be pinpointed.

Askold Ivantchik, Igor Tsvinariia (Sukhum), and Andrey Belinsky (Stavropol) headed the excavation. The team of archaeologists included Roman Stoyanov, invited expert Olga Gorskaya, and other archaeologists, as well as a large group of HSE students and postgraduates.

The Kodor Archaeological Expedition has traditionally served as good practice for Master’s students of the Classical and Eastern Archaeology programme. Some students of the Bachelor’s Programme in Classical Studies were also invited. The students practiced cleaning, sorting, and counting artefacts, learned the basic principles of stratigraphy and construction periods, and were taught to work with archaeological tools. They also worked in a laboratory to process, register, and reconstruct the artifacts, including through the use of photogrammetric methods and 3D modelling.

As in previous years, the researchers participating the expedition gave a series of lectures for students.

September: Italy

In September, the Centre of Classical and Oriental Archaeology performed excavations in the ancient city of Acragas (modern Agrigento) in Sicily. This was the second stage of the HSE excavations in Acragas: the first stage was conducted in 2019, while the 2020 expedition was cancelled due to the pandemic. This year, the archaeologists managed to overcome considerable difficulties presented by COVID-19 restrictions (including having to obtain a special permit from the Italian Ministry of Health to work without observing the obligatory quarantine).

The excavation was conducted as part of an international archaeological expedition lead by Laurence Chevallier (Bordeaux Montaigne University, France) and Askold Ivantchik. The project’s partners were the French Archaeological School in Rome, the University of Wisconsin–Madison (USA), and the Agrigento Archaeological Park.

The expedition studied the western part of one of the most picturesque and famous ancient archaeological sites—the Valley of the Temples (a UNESCO World Heritage site), which is home to five perfectly preserved Greek temples from the Archaic and Classical periods. The site housed the Sanctuary of the Chthonic Deities, where the HSE archaeologists investigated the first terrace, including two plots in the northern part, adjacent to the sacred road. The chronology of the (presumably religious) buildings was determined and their structure was studied.

Of all the findings, the votive hoards (dedicated to a deity) deserve special attention. The sites contain painted ceramic objects from the Archaic period, miniature vessels, terracotta figurines, and bronze phiales. However, even more significant are three lead plates in the shape of rotuli, on which spells were typically written. The placement of the artifacts dates them to the 5th century BC. The plates will be restored and carefully unfolded—if they are found to contain inscriptions, it will be a sensational discovery.

The expedition featured the participation of IOCS researchers Askold Ivantchik, Yuri Svoyski, Associate Professor Valentina Mordvintseva, invited experts Nikolay Sudarev, Alexey Ivanov, Ekaterina Romanenko, and ten students of the Master’s Programme in Classical and Oriental Archaeology.

In addition to the archaeological work, the students attended the Second Archaeological School held as part of the expedition. A similar school was also held in 2019. The students prepared presentations on the key monuments of Graeco-Roman civilization in Sicily (with the presentations given at the monuments themselves). They also listened to a series of lectures on history and archaeology and visited archaeological sites and museums in Sicily.

Field studies of the Sanctuary of the Chthonic Deities at Acragas will continue next year. The archaeologists are also planning to hold the Third Archaeological School for HSE students and postgraduates.

Iraq and Tajikistan

In addition to the expeditions to Turkey, Italy, and Abkhazia, the Centre of Classical and Oriental Archaeology is also supporting other archaeological projects run by its partners this year.

IOCS Associate Professor Ilya Arkhipov took part in a Russian-Iraqi expedition to Tell Dehayl, where a large city centre dating back to the second and first millennia BC was being studied in partnership with the Institute of Archaeology (Russian Academy of Sciences), the Institute of Oriental Manuscripts (Russian Academy of Sciences), and the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts. In cooperation with the State Hermitage Museum, HSE students of the Classical and Eastern Archaeology programme participated in the excavation of Penjikent—a famous city in the Sughd province of Tajikistan.

Elizaveta Boyko, HSE IOCS PhD student

Elizaveta Boyko, HSE IOCS PhD student

I first took part in an archaeological expedition to Sicily in May 2019, and I was fascinated by Acragas (Agrigento). I was particularly impressed by the giant atlantes of the Temple of Olympian Zeus—the largest Doric temple ever constructed. I wrote my course paper and subsequent Master’s thesis about this temple, and I embarked on my postgraduate studies with a draft dissertation about Acragas at the time of the temples’ construction.

My second visit to Acragas was in September 2021. I was finally able to see with my own eyes everything I had been reading about for over two years. This was my first real excavation in a Greek polis, as we had not done much excavation before. We got up at 7 am, set off at 8 am and began by 9 am. We had lunch at 12:30 pm and finished work at 5 pm, then went back to where were staying. The people on duty cooked dinner and the rest of us did our tasks.

We were excavating an elongated architectural structure with exhedras (recesses in the wall) that had plinths at their centre. This structure must have been located along a sacred road. Apart from various votives (including lead rotuli discovered at the base of a structure believed to be the plinth of a statue—those were the first artifacts we excavated in Acragas), we found a vast number of lanterns of different sizes. We presume that processions of people carrying those lanterns in their palms took place there after sunset. I was amazed at both the great number of non-domestic objects in the excavated layers and the plethora of sacred places in the Valley of the Temples.

The expedition has been very beneficial to my future postgraduate research. It has also helped me evaluate the work I completed during the pandemic. We were working with French archaeologists who knew much about architecture and told us a lot about the local architectural style, teaching us how to ‘read’ architectural blocks. I hope the expedition will continue and let new generations of HSE archaeologists get closer to the real ancient world.

Askold Ivantchik, Head of the Centre of Classical and Oriental Archaeology, corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Sciences

Askold Ivantchik, Head of the Centre of Classical and Oriental Archaeology, corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Sciences

Thanks to the excavations our Centre has been conducting for the past three years, HSE University is one of the Russian leaders in the field of the Classical Antiquity. Given the number of expeditions to ancient sites and despite the fact that we have much fewer staff, the Centre is on par with major traditional research institutions such as the Institute of Archaeology (Russian Academy of Sciences), the Institute for the History of Material Culture (Russian Academy of Sciences), the State Hermitage Museum, the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, and the State Historical Museum.

Our Centre is the only Russian institution that conducts regular archaeological studies in the Mediterranean region—in Italy and Turkey, some of the main territories of ancient Greek culture. Soviet and Russian classical archaeologists used to focus exclusively on the northern Black Sea region and Central Asia. Although very interesting from an archaeological point of view, those areas are located in the remote northeast periphery of ancient Greek civilization. The opportunity for Russian classical archaeologists, particularly young specialists, to conduct excavations of major ancient monuments in the Mediterranean region takes Russian classical archaeology to a new level, making it an equal player on the global stage.

Ilya Smirnov, HSE IOCS Director

Ilya Smirnov, HSE IOCS Director

Even in 2020, when travel was significantly reduced due to the pandemic, our archaeologists and master’s students in archaeology were able to spend a month at the excavation site in Abkhazia. This year, we managed to run three expeditions—almost as many as in pre-pandemic times—thanks to the dedicated efforts of Askold Ivantchik.

I would like to point out how important and effective it is to invite our students on archaeological expeditions, particularly those studying on the Master’s Programme in Classical and Eastern Archaeology. They can gain invaluable archaeological experience working under their senior colleagues. Thanks to the two years of fundamental studies, five of our first Master’s students were able to become HSE postgraduates and continue both their desk and field research.

Last but not least, the vigorous expedition activities of the IOCS Centre of Classical and Eastern Archaeology are only possible due to financing from HSE University. We are grateful to HSE University for this support and are certain that these R&D investments will pay off in the short-term, giving us important discoveries made by the Centre’s young and seasoned archaeologists.

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