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Excavations

The Chora

The agricultural hinterland (chora) of the Greek city of Chersonesos, like that of many Greek colonies, was divided into lots for the farms and vineyards of the colonists.   This division seems to have taken place about a hundred years after the establishment of the city and left visible marks on the landscape, in the form of roads, stone division walls, vineyard planting walls, and the farmsteads themselves.   Elsewhere in the colonial Greek world, such remains have been destroyed by later development and modern deep plowing.   At Chersonesos, however, much of the ancient landscape has been preserved.   This landscape has been the subject of archaeological research for much of the 20th century.   In 1994, ICA added its efforts to that investigation, embarking on collaborative archaeological projects with the NPTC at two farm sites in the chora.

The first site to become the object of a joint project is known as Site 151.   Here, excavations concentrated on a farmhouse dating to the 3rd and 2nd centuries BCE.   The well-preserved remains revealed a modest structure with storage bins, a fortified tower, and a small household shrine containing a kantharos and a ceramic club (perhaps an indication of the cult of Herakles).   The storage areas testify to the agricultural activities of the building's inhabitants, probably wine production.   Modifications to the structure over time indicate an increasing concern with defense, and the eventual abandonment of the farm may be related to the major economic and political changes the area underwent with the influx of new populations in the 3rd century CE.   This site is now in the final publication stage, and we intend the comprehensive results of our research to be available to the scholarly community very soon.

Excavations at Site 151 allowed the ICA-NPTC collaboration to develop its methodologies and formulate new research questions.   These new approaches and questions were put to practice in the course of geophysical prospecting and excavation at a site called Bezymyannaya, at the furthest edge of the Greek chora.   Research began in 1997 and concluded in 2004.   During that period, ICA and the NPTC uncovered evidence for a long and interesting history that stretched from the site's early life as a large, fortified farmstead to its use as a fort by Turkish troops during the Crimean War.   Excavations meant to "ground-truth" resistivity and ground-penetrating-radar surveys also provided information about the nature and date of buried field-walls.   These surveys were accompanied by the systematic application of modern surveying techniques and GIS software to the site.   Specialist studies were also brought to bear on the material recovered during excavation: through the efforts of physical anthropologists, paleobotanists, and ceramics specialists, the site will tell us much about marginal burials, agricultural practices, and trade and manufacturing.   Work is well underway on the final publication of this site, as well.

The Urban Area

In 2001, ICA began a three-way collaboration with the NPTC and the Università di Lecce for the purpose of excavation in the South Region of the urban area of Chersonesos.   NPTC archaeologist Dr. Larissa Sedikova had initiated excavations around a massive Roman-period cistern in this underexplored area as early as the 1980s, discovering in the process an unparalleled collection of 7th-9th century pottery.   The new collaborative project was designed to explore a Byzantine residential block across the main street from the cistern.   Its goals were the application of contextual, digital documentation strategies to the excavation of a well-preserved Late Byzantine residential complex and the investigation of the development of the city over time.   Late Byzantine Chersonesos has two features that distinguish it from almost all Byzantine urban contexts in the Mediterranean: first, its urban arrangements follow the original orthogonal grid laid out by the Greek colonists; and second, it was largely subject to a violent destruction near the end of the 13th century CE and never fully reoccupied.   Areas like the South Region, where there has been little previous archaeological activity, are particularly rich in evidence related to urban development and to aspects of daily life.

Since 2003, excavations in the South Region have moved forward as a direct collaboration between ICA and the NPTC.   As of 2005, three residential and commercial complexes have been exposed in their entirety.   The finds from these excavations have been particularly useful in creating a detailed picture of everyday life in a flourishing Late Byzantine provincial city.   The three complexes share a central court, which seems to have housed both metalworking and religious space.   Closing off the courtyard from the street is a small chapel, around and inside which several tombs held the partial or complete remains of more than 100 people.   To judge from ceramic remains and spatial organization, one of the complexes may have served as an inn, while another seems to have been used in part as a shop at the moment of its destruction.   The fire that destroyed many of the rooms along the outside of the block also preserved the organic contents of those rooms, and remains of wooden beams and trim, as well as those of grain, fish sauce, and other foodstuffs, were collected from several areas.   The use of laser theodolites and GIS software enabled the joint project to record the three-dimensional positions of this material and of all other small finds.   The same tools have also permitted the collection of three-dimensional data about surfaces, and the georeferencing of photographs taken from above to the plan of the structures.   This approach has been useful, too, in sorting out the more fragmentary remains of earlier activity in this block.   There is now evidence for building phases in the 9th-10th centuries (floors laid in cuts in the bedrock), the 6th -7th centuries (a fill and irregular pavement in the courtyard, and perhaps a small cistern or well), and the 1st -3rd centuries (a monumental slab pavement preserved under one end of the courtyard).   The final publication of the first five years of excavation will bring all these data together to make a substantial contribution to the study of urbanism at Chersonesos and Byzantine daily life.

ICA was also involved in another excavation in the urban area in 2003.   In the course of the construction of a new building sponsored by PHI, the foundations of another Late Byzantine residential block covered interesting remains from the Greek period.   These remains included a cremation burial of the early 4th c. BCE and a wall built of large, rusticated ashlar blocks.   The foundations of the latter interrupted the masonry base of another tomb or funerary monument with fine masonry.   This spot was clearly occupied by one of the earliest necropoleis of the Greek city.   As the urban fabric expanded and a new wall circuit was built in the later 4th c. BCE, the regular urban grid was laid over the old necropolis, and the area became instead the site of a major (public?) building.   The remains of the Greek structures have been incorporated into the landscaping of the modern building, and will provide a point of interest for visitors.   Publication of the results of this excavation, including specialist studies on the Hellenistic pottery, will soon follow.