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Joint Research & Academic Archaeological Laboratory by Astrakhan State University & by Miklukho-Maklai Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology of Russian Academy of Sciences

PhD in History – Chief of Laboratory

1. History of Our Laboratory.

The Joint Research & Academic Archaeological Laboratory by Astrakhan State University & by the Miklukho-Maklai Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology of the Russian Academy of Sciences is a dynamically developing unit of our University. Its history dates back to 1977, when a student archaeological section at the then Astrakhan State Pedagogical Institute (currently known as Astrakhan State University) was established; most of its participants later became joined the faculty staff of ASU’s Historical Department and other Russian universities.

In 2003, the Archaeological Laboratory was established at Astrakhan State University; Dmitry Vassilyev, who was then a Junior Professor, became its Chief. In 2006, in accordance with the agreement signed by the Miklukho-Maklai Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology RAS and by Astrakhan State University, the Archaeological Laboratory was transformed into the Joint Research & Academic Archaeological Laboratory run by the two institutions.

A large amount of researches has been undertaken since then:

  • Archaeological excavations in five districts of Astrakhan Region;
  • Excavations within the area where a large medieval settlement near the village of Samosdelka used to be, as well as similar excavations near Lapas Village, near Komsomolsky Village, and at the Vakurov Knoll.
  • Over ten new archeological sites have been discovered as a result of those excavations; besides, our Laboratory arranged rescue archaeological excavation works in the very city of Astrakhan – in the Astrakhan Kremlin, in the Brothers’ Garden, and in a park in the city center.
  • The chronological range of the researched artifacts is very wide – from the Neolithic period up to the Golden Horde times. Our largest and most remarkable project is researches of Samosdelka Settlement, where the city of Atil, the ex-capital city of the Khazar Khanate (9th-10th centuries), presumably used to be located; as well as the medieval towns of Saqsin (11th-12th centuries) and Summerkent (13th-14th centuries).

2. Major Fields of Our Activities.

Our research and educational activities are based on particular research themes in the field of archaeology in the Lower Volga Region:

  • Lower Volga in Ancient Times;
  • Lower Volga in Early Iron Age;
  • Population of Volga’s Delta in 8th-14th Centuries;
  • Golden Horde’ Town & Steppe;
  • Archaeological Map of Astrakhan Region.

The latter theme integrates results of the rest of our researches and implies execution of archaeological surveys and limited excavations throughout the entire area occupied by Astrakhan Region, as well as description of the Lower Volga Region’s archaeological heritage. It implies interaction with regional legal authorities responsible for protection and preservation of historical and cultural monuments in order to obtain legal protection of newly-discovered sites and monuments.

Our research activities are performed in the following fields:

  • Excavations and surveys of archaeological sites and monuments;
  • Organization and execution of protection-oriented archaeological researches interacting with regional legal authorities responsible for protection of archaeological artifacts and sites;
  • Participation in contests to obtain grants for researches of regional, national, and international level; organization and execution of grant-funded researches;
  • Training of specialists in historical restoration and establishment of a restoration workshop based on our Laboratory to provide a better preservation of archeological artifacts, as well as extension of our staff’s and students’ research activities;
  • Organization of scientific seminars, conferences, and meetings in the specified research themes on the base of Astrakhan State University and/or the Miklukho-Maklai Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology RAS, or jointly with other archaeological institutions.

Our educational activities are as follows:

  • Organization of field practical training in Archaeology for students of the Historical Department of Astrakhan State University at archaeological sites of the Lower Volga region and the adjacent areas;
  • Arrangement of lecture courses and practical workshops for our students by involving staff of the Miklukho-Maklai Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology RAS, who specialize in the field of Archaeology, restoration, and reconstruction;
  • Administration of our academic museum and its permanent and temporary thematic expositions; maintenance of our storage facility at the museum to preserve artifacts there;
  • Arrangement of an archive of our field and reporting documents; preparation of research papers for their publication; formation of our library stock with scientific editions in Archaeology;
  • Development of educational programs and special courses; collection and production of visual materials related to Archaeology;
  • Involvement of students in field (surveys and excavations) and laboratory (composition of scientific reports, restoration, reconstruction, etc.) researches;
  • Writing of reports, course papers, bachelor and master papers on the base of our Laboratory;
  • Arrangement of our students’ independent archaeological surveys under supervision of our staff;
  • Participation of our students in student and professional archaeological scientific conferences;
  • Arrangement of educational excursions at archaeological sites of Astrakhan Region.

3. Expected Results of Our Activities.

  • Arrangement of a permanent archaeological expedition that would operate on the base of signed contracts an participate in grant-funded projects;
  • Creation of our restoration base;
  • Writing research papers by our students and staff; presentation of reports at scientific conferences;
  • Writing and defense of course, bachelor, and master papers on the base of our Laboratory;
  • Development of academic materials in Archaeology; development of special courses (Stone Age in Astrakhan Region, Lower Volga of Bronze Age, Lower Volga in Scythian & Sarmatian Times, Astrakhan Region as Part of Khazar Khanate, Population of Volga’s Delta in 10th-13th Centuries, Town & Steppe of Golden Horde, Technique of Field Archaeological Surveys, Methods of Natural Sciences in Archaeology, Mathematical Methods in Archaeology, Archaeological Restoration & Reconstruction); development of manuals and textbooks for these courses and execution of generalizing work in Astrakhan Region’s archaeology – our monographs “Archaeology of Astrakhan Region” and “Archaeological Map of Astrakhan Region”.

4. Prospects of Our Further Development.

  • Establishment of our permanent academic museum to expose materials of our archaeological expedition, which shall make it possible to arrange museum practical training for our students who cover the program “Museum Administration & Monument Protection”;
  • Establishment of a research and educational archaeological base of ASU in Samosdelka Settlement as a base station to organize museum and archaeological practical training; creation of an outdoor museum; establishment of links with tourism agencies to develop archaeological, cultural, and scientific tourism.

5. Summary of Our Field Activities.

1. Archaeological surveys in a number of districts of Astrakhan Region – Privolzhsky, Kamyzyaksky, Narimanovsky, and Krasnoyarsky. The surveys aimed to monitor the state of earlier revealed archaeological monuments and discover new monuments to obtain their legal protection. The researches were carried out by staff of our Laboratory and by students of the Historical Department of ASU. As a result, 20 new archaeological monuments were discovered (sites of the Stone and Bronze Ages, medieval settlements, and medieval soil burial grounds).

2. Archaeological excavations in Samosdelka Settlement in Kamyzyaksky District of Astrakhan Region. They are carried out as a part of our Khazar project that is funded by the Russian Jewish Congress; its goal is to study monuments and artifacts of the Khazar epoch in the Russian South.

We continued our excavations at Pit 1 in the central part of the Settlement. Our excavations involved two surface layers that correspond to two chronological stages when this Settlement used to exist.

In the southern part of the pit, we researched layers related to the 8th and 9th centuries. We have revealed and researched remnants of three rectangular dwelling houses with truncated corners. The houses were 20 to 50 cm deep in the soil. Rows of small pole and pillar pits 3 to 5 cm in diameters have been revealed; they were surrounded with strongly blurred tape sports of clay. Evidently, the walls of the houses were wattle, coated with clay. Since the houses have partially been preserved, their initial sizes are reconstructed as approximately 2*3 and 3*4 meters.

Besides, we have discovered a slightly deepened rectangular house; its floor and walls were made of wooden boards up to 7 or 8 cm thick and 15 to 20 cm wide.

Moreover, we have revealed remnants of several other houses, which are very difficult to identify, since only particular elements have been preserved throughout the past centuries – fragments of wattle walls, cooking ovens, and couches. One of the excavated ovens was edged with a large amount of pebble. A small section of a walls made of pebblestone was adjacent to it. A bad preservation of the houses is explained with a high degree of excavation of early layers of the Settlement with utility and foundation pits in the 12th century.

As for the upper layer, in the south-eastern part of the excavation pit, we have researched layers of the 11th and 12th centuries. Remnants of a large multi-room house related to this period; the house was built of recycled fired brick. It is damaged with a silo pit rather badly. We have discovered remnants of three premises. Their walls are composed of fragments of fired brick, fastened together with a wooden carcass, and plastered with clay. Besides, adobe brick of the same size as fired brick (24*24*5 cm) was applied to build the house. The premise interior includes floor paved with unbroken bricks, wattle and daub couches (also paved with brick), and remnants of wooden constructions of uncertain application – probably they used to be the wall or the roof carcass. The house was integrated into the regular plan of the entire street quarter.

We should mention a carved rod-like bone ear scoop with a spoon on its end (it originates from a pit of the 11th or 12th century), as well as a bone knife made of a flawed stretched trapezoid-like cover plate with a round ornament and a copper encolpium cross. We have found numerous red-clay potter’s jugs of two main types – mugs (with a wide neck, with a straight or slightly narrowing neck, stocky with a turnips-like body, as well as jugs without a clear neck, turnips-like jugs, and jugs narrowing at the top) and high narrow-neck jugs with a turnips-like body. Molded ceramics is represented with pot-like forms with a pompous ornament (their main element is overhanging garlands) and with an engobe surface ornament – the so-called ceramics of “Oghuz” appearance, as well as non-ornamented non-engobe jugs of campfire baking.

3. Archaeological excavations within the area of the Astrakhan Kremlin. These works have been arranged as per the task set by the Central Research & Restoration Project Workshops. Our excavations were carried out in Pit 29 at the southern wall of the former Clerical Consistory. The size is the pit is 12 meters from the west to the east and 8 meters from the south to the north. Pit 29 has included Hole 3, where researches were carried out in 1989.

Our excavations have revealed only the most upper cultural sediments related to the 20th century. The Stratigraphy of the research site reveals traces of destruction of large brick constructions followed by surface flattening. Layers of broken brick, chalky crumb, and construction garbage are covered with a leveling layer of humus. These layers are related to the periods of capital repairs, reconstruction, and replanning of the Kremlin that was executed in 1960s and 1970s.

These layers cover a pit of a full-profile dugout vault that was revealed in the southern part of Pit 29. The dugout vault pit is of right-rectangular form; it has vertical walls and a flat bottom. Its depth is about 160 cm; its visible sizes are 364 cm long and 254 cm wide. Its walls have traces of a wooden board facing of a carcass of beams with a square cross-section. We have cleansed remnants of a solid flat overhead cover of wooden boards. The pit contained numerous bottles of green and transparent glass, perfume jars, ampoules, test tubes and other pharmacy utensils, numerous fragments of faience and glass table utensils, including faience plates and saucers with letters “RKKA” marked in them (RKKA is Russian for “Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army” of the early Soviet Union – the translator’s note).

Judging by peculiar features of its construction, by what filled the pit and by what was found there, one could suppose that this pit served as a dugout vault to store products and medicines; it could be dated back to the first 30 years of the 20th century, when units of the Red Army were deployed in the Astrakhan Kremlin.

As for Hole 3 excavated in 1989, it was selected to reveal the depth of its cultural layer. We have traced a foundation wall that stretches from the counterfort of the Clerical Consistory southwards. It is composed of formless lengthy rubble stones fastened together with a clay solution. Probably, it was originally built in the trench, so stones were laid into the trench walls with a dense solution. The wall was to deter the counterfort from sliding. The bottom of the hole is over 5 m deep from the pit surface. The substrate layers (they are typical for Baer Knolls, on one of which the Astrakhan Kremlin is located) – slanting layers of sandy loam and loamy soil – has not been reached. The stratigraphic setting in walls in of the hole is unvaried: the entire soil mass is composed with only one layer – gray loose sandy loam with small coals. One might say that soil was piles up on purpose to the southern slope of the Kremlin Knoll in this very place. That might be done most likely in the 18th century, when the top of the knoll was leveled off in the central part of the Kremlin, and large masses of soil were transferred from the knoll top to is slopes. This supposition shall be checked during our further researches.

4. Excavations within the Savior Transfiguration Monastery. It is the first time that archaeological researches have been carried out within the White Town area of Astrakhan. Our excavations have been carried out the former northern walls of the then township. Now this area is a small park between the center of Youth Creativity and a tower of the disappeared Savior Transfiguration Monastery (the only tower of this Monastery that has been preserved up to nowadays). In the late 19th century, this area was the location of the Prior Building of the Monastery. Our excavation site was 50 sq. m long; it is a rectangle 10 m from the north to the south and 5 m from the west to the east. Our stratigraphic observations make it possible to infer that there is a cultural layer up to 1 meter deep; the layer consists of several stratigraphic horizons: 1. Its basic layer is very dense sterile brown loamy sand. 2. A layer of a primary settlement in this area dating back to the 16th and 17th centuries. 3. A dense layer of rich gray loamy soil with coals and cinder, which was formed on the daylight surface and which is dense owing to walking and riding. 4. A layer related to the 18th and the early 19th centuries. 5. A layer that is dense owing to street walking and riding, as well as to construction of the Monastery facilities. 6. A layer of destruction of the Monastery facilities – a very thick layer of construction garbage, which mixed materials of the 19th and 20th centuries. 7. The leveling loamy addition that covers that ruined building. It was laid after the destruction of the constructions in 1982. 8. A layer of park turf – floodplain black earth with a sandy addition.

In the northern part of the pit, we have discovered powerful load-bearing walls of the Prior’s main building. Its walls are about 80 cm thick; the foundations occur about 2 m deep from the present-day surface. We have found a foundation cage – a base of the wall of the internal facade and a cross-section basement wall, which is of the same thickness and composition. In the southern part of the pit, we have revealed remnants of a powerful wall laid in a shallow (not more than 50 cm) trench. The foundation of the brick arch adjoins this wall from the northern (internal) side; the arch used to bear the whole vault of the basement. This wall could be regarded as a base for the internal bypass gallery or the veranda of the Prior’s Building that faced the yard. Inside the basement, under the veranda, we have found Square Pit #1 – a cinder pit that was formed in the middle or late 19th century. Its filling contains numerous remnants of animal bones, fragments of ceramic, faience, porcelain, and glass utensils that is typical for the 19th century.

As for the central and the southern parts of the excavation pit, we have researched an interesting system of the local canalization – a pipe with a square cross-section profile; it was made of thick (up to 10 cm) oak half-beams; it stretched via the central part of the excavation pit from the north to the south; it had a considerable southward slope. Both the trench and the collector well contained a small amount of ceramics and glassware of the 19th century. Two small pillar pits have been cleansed near the northern end of the canalization pipe – from the cramp bars that might bear the flooring of the veranda.

Judging by the character of what we have found (absence of kitchen wastes in the canalization system), one could conclude that a bathhouse might exist within this part of the veranda.

5. Our researches within the area of the Russian Gostiny Dvor (the Shopping Arcade). The researches area was located within the area surrounded with walls in the northern part of the then township area near the Astrakhan Kremlin. Our excavations were of rescue character, since builders have dug a foundation pit that destroyed the cultural layer. The foundation pit was transformed into Excavation Pit 2 (See information about Excavation Pit 1 in the White Town above). It is located close to the stairs that leads from the Brothers’ Garden to the pedestrian crossing via the pavement of Trediakovsky Street, near the Artillery Tower of the Astrakhan Kremlin. The excavation is of rectangular form; it stretches from the west-south-west to the east-north-east for 27 meters. It is 7 meters wide. Our stratigraphic observations make it possible to conclude that the Akhmatovskaya Street has a cultural layer up to 40 m deep; it consists of several stratigraphic horizons occurring one above another. Its upper part is the modern tile covering of the Akhmatovskaya Street on a sandy layer. Below it there is a layer of gravel mass related to the removed asphalt coating of the 20th century. In its turn, it lies on the destruction layer of the Russian Gostiny Dvor. The loamy cindered layer saturated with organics – the layer of unpaved Akhmatovskaya Street – is located right on the subsoil – on slanting layers of brown clay and sand.

In the southern part of the excavation pit, we have discovered basements of the Russian Gostiny Dvor covered with a leveling layer of sand and (on its surface) with concrete tile. Basements are filled with chalky crumb ad broken brick in their upper part, as well as with gray loose loamy sand with a large amount of wooden dust in their lower part. The bottom of the basements is covered with wooden dust from the floor boards; it is a loamy humused soil that is dense owing to continuous walking; it lies right in the subsoil. Judging by the profiles of the excavation pit margins, the foundation pits of the constructions were led into trenches, which were over 3 meters deep.

The main object revealed in the excavation pit is walls of the building of the Russian Gostiny Dvor. Its northern wall is up to 2 meters thick and over 2.5 meters high; it stretches from the west to the east along the middle line of the excavation pit. In the western part of the excavation pit, the brick laying of the wall of the Russian Gostiny Dvor has partially been preserved; a wall of a 19th-century construction adjoins it in the east. Both the laying technique and sizes of bricks are different. In its western part, the brick laying was erected above the rubble foundation; as for the eastern part, the laying is four-band: two or three layers of brick are interlaced with rubble stone laying. The laying is based on a mortar solution in its western part and on a combined mortar-clay solution in its eastern part.

In the eastern part of the excavation pit, the wall turns southwards, thus forming the corner of the construction. The laying of rubble stone revealed in the eastern part of the excavation pit was made in accordance with another technique and in another times – those are remnants of another construction that used to be located along Akhmatovskaya Street; it might form the corner of the second building of the Russian Gostiny Dvor.

Three transversal brick walls on a rubble stone foundation adjoin it from its southern, internal wall. The walls are up to 1.5 meters thick. They are internal barriers between basement premises. We have partially researches three basement premises, which are completely filled with construction garbage – broken brick and pieces of binding mortar.

In the south-eastern part of the excavation pit, below the entrance level of the foundation trenches, we have found layers related to the 16th and 17th centuries. Four utility pits are related to the earliest period of development of this area; the four pits are crossed with construction pits and with foundation trenches. The most ancient artifact found at the excavation site is a coin dated back to the Golden Horde’s epoch (the 14th century).

All our obtained results have been published in scientific journals and reported at archaeological conferences.

Address: Archaeological Laboratory, 20a Tatischev Street, Astrakhan 414056 Russia.
Phone: +7-8512-61-08-89.

: 18-08-2016,