Golden Hills Excavations - 2002

Todd Morrison
Doctoral student of Eurasian Archaeology at Queen's University of Belfast, Northern Ireland. Took part in Golden Hills excavations in 2002.

Zolotiye Gorki is a medieval fortress/village site in a relatively hilly part of the Russian steppe, near the city of Novocherkassk. The fortress stands on the high ground overlooking a preserved part of the steppe. The camp is in a lightly forested area at the base of the hill immediately adjacent to the excavation.
The area remains, to a large degree, in its natural state. Wildlife abounds — some evenings wolves can be heard in the distance and wild boar tracks have been seen. Tents are provided with plenty of space for lounging-around. There are laundry facilities, toilets, and a solar shower, in addition to a kitchen, root cellar, field lab, and a large tent for meals, work, and socialising. Of course, vehicle access to the nearest village (about three miles) is almost daily. This usually includes some swimming in the Don river... which, at this point, has beaches of white sand and gives one the overall impression of being on the ocean. A smaller tributary is about a 15 minute walk from the camp in case you have a sudden impulse to get wet.
Daily trips are made to the shop in the village. Beer costs less than a dollar a pint, cigarettes around 30 cents a pack, and ice cream is about 15 cents. Other than the occasional excursion to Rostov or Novocherkassk where you may want to buy souvenirs, there is no need for a lot of money. You will be very well-fed, including snacks for the 10am break. Breakfast is at 6:30, work at 7, and lunch around 1 or 2. Then the rest of the day is free for a trip to the shop and river, rest, hiking (almost any Russian I have met can identify a dozen herbs and spices within sight of where you happen to be standing and most of the other plants, as well), etc.. Sometimes optional evening work may happen. Supper is around 8 or 9pm. (Russian food is quite varied and probably not as 'foreign' as you may imagine. Borshch is quite popular, especially at lunch, and dill is used a bit more than in the West. I, personally, have developed a bit of a taste for kvas, a non-alcoholic drink made from stale bread and sold from large tanks by the side of the road). After supper there may be a campfire, lecture, or chess tournament. There are frequent parties on birthdays, new arrivals or departures, solstices and Russian folk holidays.
Many Russians speak English so language is not a problem. Communication, as opposed to fluency in a language, is fairly easy. Of course, it helps to know a few words of Russian, especially when travelling, but an interpreter, or at least someone who studied English in school, is usually present. You probably won't get to discuss the latest developments in sub-atomic physics, but you will have things to talk about.
The 2002 excavations at Zolotiye Gorki were mainly reconaissance... i.e. they were geared toward obtaining a knowledge of the nature of the site. It had been the subject of one previous investigation in the 1980s. Much of the work done this year was a re-evaluation of this work (and, in most places, re-excavation). Additionally, a variety of gadgets were brought in to explore the sub-surface features of the surrounding area. These showed that the site was far larger (and more complex) than previously thought.
The actual work on this year's excavations involved moving 20-year-old backfill, cleaning burials, and clearing ancient walls of dirt and roots. Several burials were uncovered, one in an abandoned storage pit. Medieval Saltovo-Mayavski ceramics, are absolutely pervasive to the site and camp. A large kiln was excavated up the hill from the main site, showing that much of the pottery was of local manufacture. Several phases of occupation, not previously recorded, were noted, though the function of the excavated buildings is, as yet, unclear. At this stage, it seems, the project is tentatively scheduled to last some other seasons.

The essay above originally appeared on Donskaya Arkheologiya magazine's website, which has since closed.

Further reading:
Khazar-Era Fortress of Golden Hills by Vladimir Klyutchnikov
An Introduction to Khazaria's History by Kevin Alan Brook


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