New Investigations of Medieval Sites in Central Byeloozero

Since 2006 a new cycle of field studies in Byeloozero has been underway into the initial stage of the medieval colonization of the area. A distinctive feature of this work has been the wide use of modern methods in the investigation of the habitation levels, including the detailed recording of the identified features found and the thorough total washing of the deposits, using metal sieves so as to collect all finds within them.
Carrying out excavations at this level requires a good deal of time and their effectiveness depends in large degree on the choice of focal points. Bearing this in mind, work was organized in two settlements significantly different from each other, which could potentially enable us to obtain a wide-ranging picture of the early history of the region’s development. One was an ordinary settlement of miniature dimensions — Nikolskoye V on the River Kema dated to the 10th century, while the second was the well-known settlement Krutik, dated to the 9th–10th centuries, the existence of which was linked with a system of proto-urban centres targeted at long-range international trade. At both sites research had been carried out previously, but the use of new excavation methods made it possible to obtain qualitatively new information about the nature and level of life in the settlements concerned.
Despite the small size of the area cleared — approximately 40 m2 at each site — the volume of the collection of artefacts obtained proved to be unusually large: over 4,200 objects. The structural similarity of the two collections is striking. Around half the finds were glass beads — a clear indication of the involvement of the inhabitants in the large-scale fur trade. An important consequence of the use of the new methods was the discovery of a significant amount of dirhams and not only at Krutik, where 30 specimens were found, but also at the settlement on the River Kema, where ten coins were discovered. A concentration of dirhams like this one at settlements of such different status makes it possible to evaluate anew the scale of the presence of Arab silver in Byeloozero and the local economy’s market value.
At the same time there were also substantial differences to be observed between the settlements. The concentration of finds in the habitation levels at Krutik, where more than 80 objects were collected within each square metre, was almost four times greater than that in the settlement on the River Kema. In the latter settlement a far higher concentration was recorded of objects associated with bronze-casting and bone-carving. One of the interesting finds was a miniature horn pendant depicting a beaver. In order to understand the principles underlying this craft, it is important to note the presence of toy tools for metal-casting — ladles and casting moulds. To judge from the finds of horn and stone distaffs and also from the production waste, the bone-carvers of Krutik also worked stone and moreover the spindle-whorls of local production had been made using exactly the same techniques as those used for the well-known slate spindle-whorls.
The most important event in the history of research carried out at Krutik was the discovery of a necropolis in which burials were found involving the rite of cremation followed by the scattering of the cremated remains and the use of many grave goods. The on-going investigation of this necropolis will make it possible to find answers to important questions connected with the history of the development of this most interesting complex of sites and of the early stage in the colonization of the north-eastern margins of medieval Rus.

S.D. Zakharov

Digital publication