The Earliest Settlement in Yaroslavl

The archaeological study of “Rubleny Gorod” (the Yaroslavl Kremlin) was launched in 1937 by P.N. Tretyakov amd M.K. Karger and was then carried forward by N.N. Voronin in 1940. One of the most important questions, which archaeologists sought to answer, was the date when Yaroslavl came into being. The earliest mention of the Yaroslavl fortress in the chronicles was linked with its besieging by Bulgars in 1152: it is described as a little town which the besiegers were able to encircle with their boats and cut off from the outside world. Archaeologists also set themselves the task of studying the stratigraphy and state of preservation of the earliest cultural deposits and fortifications of the city. It was also vital to establish where the pre-Mongol Cathedral of the Dormition had stood.
N.N. Voronin established the date when the city had first appeared as the 11th century, not, however, in the trench which he had sunk near the Cathedral of the Dormition or during subsequent excavations carried out in the territory of Rubleny Gorod by I.V. Dubov, O.I. Ioannisyan, V.V. Prazdnikov and other archaeologists. At that stage no habitation levels were discovered.

Research undertaken by the Institute of Archaeology in 2004–2009 was on a scale larger than any previous work in the city. The total area of the excavations at the construction site of the new Cathedral of the Dormition near House No.1 on Volga Embankment and to the North-east of the Church of Nikola Rubleny came to 6,000 m2. During that investigation hundreds of archaeological features relating to various stages in the life of Yaroslavl were discovered. In two sectors excavated in 2008–2009 in Rubleny Gorod and on Volga Embankment archaeologists were able for the first time to record habitation levels, structures and fortifications dating from the 11th century.

In the trench in Rubleny Gorod remains of 11th-century fortifications were discovered: a rampart up to 18 m wide at its base and a ditch 6 m deep. Wooden structures inside the rampart (gorodni) were arranged in three rows: several of the lowest rows of logs forming these had survived, which provided valuable information about their construction. The log frame of the rampart had been made from round logs arranged with their ends protruding at the corners (the “oblo” method). The gorodni structures were roughly square in shape, measuring about 5.3 m down each side of the outer ones, approximately 4.2 m in the case of the middle ones and the inside ones measured about 3.8 m down each side. These details were typical for defensive installations of the late-10th or the first half of the 11th century. The gorodni structures and the spaces between them were filled with tightly packed sand from the natural soil. Over the whole area under the rampart, a thin layer was recorded containing small pieces of charcoal and hand-moulded pottery and lower down, according to the soil-scientists, was a ploughed layer. The absence of a pronounced habitation level beneath the rampart indicates that the early city had been built on a previously uninhabited site. Results from various series of radio-carbon analyses carried out in two different laboratories confirmed that the date of these early fortifications and the layer beneath them was between the end of the 10th and the beginning of the 11th century.

In the trench on Volga Embankment, where an early habitation level had also been discovered, wooden structures were examined, some of which had perhaps been dwellings, the remains of palisades, storage pits and fortifications. On the basis of data obtained with the help of radio-carbon analyses, these were dated to the 11th century. This date fits in well with the dating of the material finds stemming from the cultural layer which included penannular fibulae, silver-glass and gold-glass beads and “lemon” beads, a dirham and also numerous fragments of hand-moulded vessels, which make it possible to assume that Yaroslavl came into existence in the first half of the 11th century.

The investigations carried out by the Institute of Archaeology in Rubleny Gorod have for the first time, in the long history of the archaeological research there, provided reliable grounds for asserting that a fortified settlement had already come into being on the site in the first half of the 11th century.

A.V. Engovatova

Digital publication