Surviving tomb from late antiquity found at Phanagoria
26 August 2019
The Volnoe Delo Foundation and the Institute of Archaeology of the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) summarise the findings of the 16th field season of the Phanagorian archaeological expedition. The most interesting finds of 2019 include fragments of a font and a tabletop from a Christian basilica and family graves dating back to the 2nd and 5th centuries AD. More than 250 people took part in the expedition and about four thousand tourists participated in guided tours of the Phanagoria Museum-Preserve.The last few weeks of summer have given the Phanagorian expedition one of the season's most interesting finds; namely, a fully intact sepulchre from the 5th century AD. It was found on the territory of the Eastern necropolis. In ancient times, burial vaults often fell prey to robbers, and are therefore typically discovered by contemporary archaeologists in a ravaged state. What makes this year's find unique is its intactness: all the tombs and funerary objects in the burial vault have remained untouched.
The burial vault is located more than five meters below ground level. Buried inside is a family of five people – two adults and three children. The man was a warrior, as evidenced by his belt with silver buckles. There are surviving silver fasteners for spurs on his feet. The woman was wearing a seemingly expensive garment – the neckline of her dress is edged with a well-preserved golden band. Two five to seven year old boys and a two year old child are buried together with their parents. The cause of the simultaneous death of the Phanagorian family remains a mystery – specialists assume that it could have been related to an epidemic or resulted from nomadic tribes attacking Phanagoria.
This season has seen a wealth of discoveries in the Eastern necropolis – one month earlier, archaeologists found a sarcophagus dating back to the 2nd century AD. Inside a woman was buried, holding tightly onto a newborn girl. The architecture of the burial vault and the richly decorated sarcophagus evidence the high social status of those buried inside. The mother and her daughter, who perished simultaneously, could also have been the victims of a hostile raid – Phanagoria was often exposed to these during the Great Migration Period.
This season has also witnessed the discovery of items from an ancient Christian church in the Lower City excavation site; namely, fragments of a tabletop and a font made of marble. The artifacts date back to the 5th or 6th centuries AD. The tabletop could have been used as altar and the table for offerings, as well as during liturgical and funeral meals. These finds may be viewed as compelling evidence that one of the Bosporan Kingdom's first Christian churches existed in Phanagoria.
Found in the Upper City was a fragment of a decorated vase depicting Hermes, the god of trade, and Aphrodite, the goddess of beauty. The vase is decorated in the so-called 'strict style', which allows experts to date the find to the 5th century BC. The high quality of the painting suggests that it was the work of a famous decorator of the Ancient Era. The fragment of the vase, like the other finds of the season, was transferred to the Phanagoria Museum-Preserve, an indoor and open-air museum of history and archaeology, as well as a vehicle for further research.
Studies of the 16th field season were conducted in the Lower City and Upper City excavation sites, on the territory of the Eastern and Western necropolis and in the sea-flooded part of the city. During the season, nearly 250 people took part in the expedition, ranging from staff members of research and educational institutions to students and volunteers. The excavations of the 16th field season were also visited by researchers from France and Bulgaria. During the evenings, a video lecture course was held at the camp site. The lectures were prepared by the personnel of the expedition and academic institutions focused on the history of Phanagoria and the Bosporan Kingdom.
About the Phanagorian Archaeological Expedition
The Phanagorian expedition, organised by the Institute of Archaeology of the RAS, conducts archaeological excavations at the site of Phanagoria. Since 2004, excavations have been carried out with the support of the Volnoe Delo Foundation. The Phanagoria expedition explores 2.5 million cubic metres of stratum, with excavations covering 7,000 square meters and 250 archaeologists, students and volunteers participating in the annual expedition. 2014 saw the creation of the Phanagoria State Historical and Archaeological Museum-Preserve at the site of excavations.
Phanagoria was founded in the mid-6th century BC by Greek settlers on the Taman Bay shore. Its settlement and necropolis occupy 900 hectares with over 700 burial mounds. The city existed for more than 1,500 years, remaining for a long time one of the two capitals of the oldest state formation in Russia; namely, the Bosporan Kingdom.
The finds from the Phanagorian burial mounds are kept in the State Hermitage Museum, the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts and museums in Great Britain, Germany and other countries. The findings of the expeditions are presented at global scientific forums in Germany, France, Denmark, Greece, the United States and more. In 2009, the discovery of the palace of Mithridates VI was added to the list of the world's Top 10 archaeological discoveries, according to US Archaeology magazine.