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Results of the German-Russian excavations in Taganrog in 2007

The history of the city of Taganrog goes far beyond the year 1698. This was confirmed by the German-Russian archaeological excavations that started in Taganrog in the year 2004 near the Stone Stairway. The starting point for the expedition were some 20,000 pieces of ceramics, mostly of Greek origin, from the regions of Eastern Hellas (today - the Turkish Mediterranean coastline and islands) that date back to late 7th-6th centuries BC. These artifacts have been washed away regularly by the Azov Sea onto a small plot of land near the Stone Stairway since 1930s, and are now exhibited at the Taganrog Museum. These sensational relics provided the theory that an Ancient Greek colony existed in the place of the modern-day Taganrog.

Dr. Ortwin Dally (right) presenting to Mayor Fedyanin (left) the bronze arrowheads found in the archaeological site in 2007

The excavations, which began in 2004, had one goal: collecting information on spatial and time frameworks of the Taganrog settlement. Cooperation partners are the German Archaeological Institute (Berlin, Germany), the Institute of Archaeology of the Russian Academy of Sciences (Moscow), the Don-Archaeological Society (Rostov-on-Don, Russia). The research work was supplemented with results of geophysical observations in the Gulf of Taganrog and geological borings along the coastline. Up to date the excavations gave the following results:

The excavations site is situated at the lower terrace near the sole of the higher terrace, in place of the modern-day Taganrog city. The traces of the activity of the settlement were found at the depth of 7 meters (23 ft.) from the today's ground level. The earliest signs of the settlement go back to late Bronze Age - early Iron Age (between 20th and 10th centuries BC). The discoveries lead to conclusion that the terrace at the elevation of the excavation site, and maybe even the plateau where Peter the Great realized his large-scale plans were already populated at this early point of time. It is most likely that the settlement served as the base for migration of Greeks, who came here in the second half of the 7th century BC from Ionian area. It is hard to tell if these Greeks were migrants from Miletus or other cities, such as Lesbos or Clazomenae (Klazomenai), it is yet difficult to determine if the settlement is Emporion Kremnoi, mentioned by the Greek historian Herodotus. The earliest Greek ceramics have been found in the neighborhood of the local products (so-called molded ceramics). With that in mind, we can assume that one or several groups of migrants arrived and lived in the Taganrog settlement together with local people. The excavations not only confirm the early date of Taganrog's foundation, but also prove Taganrog settlement to be the earliest Greek colony in the Northern-Western Black Sea Region. The settlement was situated at mouth of two rivers - Don and Mius that used to be important water transportation routes to neighboring territories.

Remains of the ancient plaza found in Taganrog (7th century BC)

The strategic geographical position of the Taganrog settlement is related to other early Greek colonies, such as Berezan Island at the estuary of Dnepr and Dniester rivers (modern-day Ukraine) and Histria at mouth of Danube (modern-day Romania). It is believed that soon after foundation of the Taganrog settlement, a bronze workshop was founded in the current archaeological site. The evidence for this fact provide numerous slag remains, bronze production wastes, and last but not least arrow heads. The Taganrog-based workshop provided the local population with bronze arrowheads, the typical weaponry of Scythian nomads who according to the latest research work came to Caucasus from the East in the first half of the 7th century BC.

German archaeologists precisely map artifacts

The plaza with the bronze workshop was covered up with earth in 6th century BC, and in the next layer was found the road hiding numerous ceramics, and the upper town with haven (today in the waters of the Gulf of Taganrog). Above the road is the layer containing the traces of a fire that took place in 4th-3rd century BC, which means Taganrog was colonized at that time also. These layers have been mixed thanks to erosion processes that still continue in the coastline of Azov Sea. Stones and layers from the higher terrace (the one where was the settlement) always fell down, transforming into the sole of the higher terrace. This shifted earth in its turn was used for population and activity - construction of the bronze workshop, road building etc.

The bread oven (7th century AD) found in the year 2005 campaign

The Taganrog settlement also played a vital role in the early Middle Ages. To the South from the 2007 archaeological excavations site, was found a bread oven. The fragments of a Byzantine amphora indicate that the oven was made in 7th century AD. Further to the South were found remains of the coast that date back to Middle Age and early Modern Age (12-14th centuries AD - 18th century AD).

Remains of an ancient Greek amphora found in Taganrog

This brings to conclusion that the Taganrog settlement was inhabited either continuously or with small interruptions from the end of the 20th century BC. Peter the Great founded Taganrog in the place with a 2000-year old history and culture.

The 2008 research highlight will be on the peninsula in the Mius River estuary to the West of Taganrog. The exploration of Taganrog site provided evidence that the history of Don estuary was different from the concept drawn from previous research. Originally it was believed that Taganrog, the first settlement of the Iron Age in the Don River estuary was destroyed or abandoned in late 6th - early 5th century BC. According to earlier researchers, a new settlement in Don estuary near today's Yelizavetovka was established instead of Taganrog settlement. The Yelizavetovka settlement was in its turn destroyed between 1st and 2nd quarters of the 3rd century BC, soon before Tanais foundation. The latest research work confirms that Taganrog coexisted with Yelizavetovka and represented not the original settlement, but some kind of integration between already existing local population and arriving Greek migrants.

Further research with geological survey, inspection and archaeological excavations is planned to re-examine the contacts between the Greeks and the local people, and to create a differentiated picture of historic and cultural development of the whole region from the late Bronze Age to Hellenism. The research work in Taganrog will be closely related to the research of Greek colonization of the Northern Black Sea Region. The agreement signed in 2006 between the Deutsches Archaeologisches Institut in Berlin and the Institute of Archaeology, Russian Academy of Sciences offers new perspectives for joint research not only within the framework of found objects, but within the framework of the global study of Greek colonization of the Northern Black Sea Region.