The Abrau Peninsula in Antiquity

The mountainous area consisting of off-sets of the Great Caucasus Range washed in the North-West and West by the waters of the Black Sea and cut off from the mainland in the South by Tsemesskaya (or Novorossiiskaya) Bay is known as the Abrau Peninsula. The earliest evidence for human settlement in the area is provided by a ritual complex under a burial-mound for which radio-carbon dates have been obtained, namely 5,690±200 thousand years ago, and a flint arrow-head fashioned from a thin three-sided knife-shaped blade of regular form, which according to A.N. Gey can be assigned to the Neolithic or even the Mesolithic period.

Data about changes in the natural environment on the peninsula in the time between the Chalcolithic and Medieval periods testify to the major impact of natural and climatic factors. In times of drought the steppe landscapes were more extended and the edges of the forests moved higher up into the mountains. During periods of unusually heavy rains living and working conditions became more difficult and this led to large areas being abandoned.

The steppe population began to move into the foothills in the Chalcolithic period. In the Bronze Age burials under mounds, among which a burial of the Late Catacomb Culture has been recorded, are found side by side with dolmen complexes. To judge from the archaeological data the Polovtsians appeared in the area in the Medieval period, when they sought refuge from the raids of the Tatars.
Natural and climatic conditions dictated the settlement system in the region. Traces of settlements have been found in high cape-like areas which could provide shelter when enemy attacks took place, during floods, mudflows or landslides of mountain waste. Despite the wide range of building materials available, including wood, clay, stone and reeds, right up until the 19th century the population of the Abrau Peninsula, as indeed that of the whole North-Western Caucasus, showed unfailing preference for buildings made of clay-and-wattle and reeds.

The appearance of stone and mud-brick houses in the Classical period reflected the fact that the territory under discussion had been drawn into the orbit of other traditions. Nevertheless, the Bosporan system for keeping watch and raising alarms, which was used in the peninsula in the Early Roman period, turned out to be closely linked with the system of settlement of the pre-Greek period. Monumental tower-like edifices made of stone, of which at least twenty were constructed in the 1st century BC, became an inseparable part of the anthropogenic landscape along with burial-mounds from the Early Bronze Age and dolmens.

The Institute of Archaeology is carrying out an investigation into one of the major complexes of this system erected on the cape-like area of the Raevskoye settlement located on the high bank of the River Maskaga. This multi-level monumental building was isolated from the rest of the city-site by a stone wall, the masonry of which has partially subsided, sinking into the household pits of an earlier construction period. The area taken up by this unusual citadel is no less than 700 m2.
The outer defensive limit of this settlement is a rampart-like earthwork at the edge of the site. It is in the shape of an irregular square with a North-South orientation. In the Early Roman period the earthwork, which in places has a height of up to 5 m, was surmounted by a defensive wall reinforced with 9 towers. All the buildings had been erected in keeping with one and the same building traditions: the walls and towers had stone base-platforms 1.2–1.5 m high, on which mud brick structures were then erected.

In the south-eastern part of the site the construction of a corner tower is being examined. A corridor 2.5 m wide has been cleared. It led to a stone base-platform measuring approximately 11 x 11 m and four metres high. In antiquity, there had been walls made of mud bricks and covered with a reed roof on top. The pink colour of the stonework and ruins of fired clay constructions are signs of a conflagration that was caused by a hostile attack and ravaged the Raevskoye settlement, and probably the whole of the Abrau Peninsula, in the middle of the 1st century AD.

A.A. Malyshev

Digital publication