20 november 2011

Surveying old road systems in the Zuya River valley, Simferopol district, Ukraine

As part of the ongoing scientific cooperation between the non-profit foundation Heritage of Millennia and the County Inspectorate of Monuments and Sites in Vest-Agder (Norway), an archaeological survey was carried out in the Zuya River valley, Simferopol district, in the summer of 2011. The field work took place in the period June 28 to July 1, and was carried out by 3 archaeologists, 1 metal detectorist using a White’s MXT Pro, and 1 GIS expert. The scope of the work was to survey the old paths and trackways in the area, as part of a project to analyse and better understand these old road systems, including their chronology, and furthermore to develop a GIS for the area in question, with particular emphasis on historical maps dating from after the Russian annexation of the Crimea in 1783 and later, the earliest one being measured by colonel Betev in 1837.The study area is situated in the middle of the Crimean foothills, c. 20 km eastward from Simferopol and to the north of Karabi Yayla, near the Balanovo reservoir. Central to this area is the Sarmatian and Alan cemetery of Neyzats, where excavations have been conducted since 1996 under the direction of Prof. I.N. Khrapunov, as well as a Late Scythian settlement site nearby, in the Barabanovo Balka (Khrapunov ed. 2011).

The area in question has a complex settlement history, and an ethnic history as complex. There are several villages there, which today are inhabited by ethnic Ukrainians and Russians: Barabanovo to the west, Balanovo close to the Neyzats cemetery in the middle and Krasnogorskoje and Kurortnoe to the east. From the early 19th century onwards, the earliest of the planned German settlements in the Crimea were situated here. Thus, Krasnogorskoje is the former German village of Neusatz, and the nearby village Kurortnoe used to be called Friedental. Both of them were established by German Lutherans in 1804-1805 (Woltner 1941:29ff), and both of them were inhabited by Tatars until then.

Older trackways and paths are criss-crossing the wood covered, low hills surrounding these villages. On the surface of it, they look as complex as the modern settlement history of the Zuya River valley. A few of these tracks are still being used sporadically, while most of them are only recognizable as long, relatively shallow depressions in the ground, often running for several hundred meters. Some of the latter are marked on the first modern maps of the area, but by no means all of them. These are so-called sunken roads or holloways, i.e. roads which has over time fallen significantly lower than the land on either side. Sunken roads are created by erosion, by water and traffic. In Northern Europe a number of sunken roads have been studied archaeologically over the years, and they are in many cases of considerable age (Coles 1984, Jørgensen 1996, Gansum 2002).

What caught our attention initially, was one sunken road (not marked on the oldest maps) that seemed to link the Late Scythian settlement in the Barabanovo Balka with a road (marked on the oldest maps) leading further into the ravine – in the direction of the modern village of Barabanovo, that is, and the fact that an admittedly modern-looking road seems to mark the eastern extension of the Neyzats cemetery. Both of these situations – sunken roads found in connection with ancient settlement sites, and ancient cemeteries aligned with pre-existing roads – have many parallels in Scandinavian and other contexts.

This summer was the first of several seasons of field work. In the course of four days we managed to survey and map digitally most of the sunken roads in the study area; they are now a major element of our new GIS, together with the other known archaeological monuments in the area.

Dating sunken roads is often difficult and time-consuming. An easy and cheap way to get an idea of how old a particular road is, is to survey it by using metal detecting equipment. In this respect, it is important to remember the way a sunken road is created; thus, the oldest layers ought to be near the surrounding surface, where the soil has not been eroded away. This means that the detectorist should follow the middle of the sunken road, while holding the metal detector in an almost straight angle, thus searching the upper sides of the depression. Using this technique, several of the sunken roads in the study area were surveyed.

Of the objects found, four stand out. One Tatar coin (pictured above) dating to the early 14th century was found on the edge of a sunken road situated in the hills south-east of the Balanovo reservoir. Near the cemetery of Neyzats was found another Tatar coin, as well as fragmented Sarmatian bronze mirror. None of the latter are associated with any visible road, however, and the mirror most likely represent a robbed burial. In the same larger area, but on the edge of a c. 30m long and c. 2m wide shallow depression which could be the remains of a path or trackway along the Zuya River, a Roman bronze coin minted by Constantius Chlorus was found (pictured below). It is too soon to draw any conclusion about this possible road and its age; the structure, however, ought to be excavated to make things clearer.

Coles, J.M. 1984. Prehistoric Roads and Trackways in Britain: Problems and Possibilities. In Fenton, A. & Stell, G. (eds.): Loads and Roads in Scotland and Beyond, pp 1-21. Edinburgh.
Gansum, T. 2002. Hulveger. Fragmenter av fortidens ferdsel. Tønsberg.
Jørgensen, M.S. 1996. Oltidens veje i Danmark. Braut 1, pp 37-62. Viborg.
Khrapunov, I.N. (ed.) 2011. Exploring the cemetery of Neyzats. Simferopol.
Woltner, M. 1941. Die Gemeindeberichte von 1848 der Deutschen Siedlungen, bearbeitet von M. Woltner. Leipzig.

2 kommentarer:

Mats Widgren sa...

Interesting. I visited Kherson, Zmiivka (Gammalsvenskby) and Olbia in May. Only 200 km to the east of your sites there are ancient fields probably from the Greek or Bysanthic times. I have a publication in Russian on these. And around Olbia (some 300 km NW of your site) there are cropmarks from the fields that fed Olbia. These can even be seen on Google earth. If I remember right there are also cropmarks from fields around Sevastopol. The two last references are from a Danish publication (on Olbia and Sevastopol).

Frans-Arne Stylegar sa...

There are lots of ancient (Greek) field systems in Western Crimea; Tatiana Smekalova are finding more and more of them ;-)