Libmonster ID: BY-401
Author(s) of the publication: Dmitry VASILYEV, Emma ZILIVINSKAYA

by Dmitry VASILYEV, head of the archeological laboratory of Astrakhan State University, Emma ZILIVINSKAYA, Cand. Sc. (Hist.), RAS Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology named after N.N. Miklukho-Maklay (Moscow)

The Lower Volga is a surprising region in the archeological respect. Here all waves of migration of people and invasions of fighting tribes from East to West left their traces, the capitals of the two greatest medieval nomadic empires Khazar khaganat (7th - 10th centuries) and Golden Horde (13th - 15th centuries) were located.

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Meanwhile, such a unique region has not been sufficiently explored as yet. The thing is that the local archeological school in Astrakhan is just being shaped, while metropolitan scientists from the Institute of Archeology of the Russian Academy of Sciences and Moscow State University named after M. V. Lomonosov have mainly concentrated their efforts on the study of Selitrenny site of ancient settlement for many years where in 1254 - 1395 there was the capital of Golden Horde Sarai Batu (Stary Sarai). Now that there are extensive excavation along both banks of the Volga River, each field season brings new sensations.

According to written sources, the fact that the Upper Volga region was one of the centers of Khazar khaganat is well-known. Recently, it has been confirmed when studying Samosdelsky site of ancient settlement located in the Volga delta, 43 km from Astrakhan. Its "core" is a low hilly upland located on the island in the middle of the river, cre-

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ated by stratified occupation layers. Also, they have been found out in the coastal lowland, a "younger" part of the settlement. Its total area which is currently known was rather significant for the Middle Ages, about 2 km2.

This object had been reckoned among the ones of Golden Horde and there are a lot of them in the Upper Volga, until in 1990 a teacher of the secondary school in the village of Samosdelka A. Pukhov brought the ceramics collected there for examination to the Astrakhan State Board for Protection of Historical and Cultural Heritage. How surprised specialists were when among them samples typical of Khazar settlements which had been dug out earlier on the Don River banks were found out, which are three centuries older than the Mongolian and Tartar! In 1990 - 1995, exploration works were organized on the site but, due to a high level of underground waters and bogginess, they limited themselves to the definition of its area and collection of available material.

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A new stage of survey started five years later. The RAS Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology named after N.N. Miklukho-Maklay, Moscow and Astrakhan state universities formed a special expedition engaging soil scientists, geophysics, archezoologists and representatives of many other adjacent areas of science and took actions to ensure preservation of monuments. The vast Khazar project of the Russian Jewish Congress covers all these activities, which allowed them to give a new impulse to archeological, archival, culturological researches, engage Russian and foreign leading scientists in the works. The Russian Fund for Fundamental Research gave us financial support for several years.

Now the excavations are carried out at the highest point of the island part of Samosdelsky site (approximately 4 m above current water level). Their area-more than 400 m2 - allowed, in particular, to trace the planning of several closely spaced small houses and the whole city quarter of the end of the 12th - the beginning of the 13th century. By the way, their foundation pits "cut" into more ancient construe-

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tions. Moreover, apparently, the medieval builders tried to use to the limit not only the area but material as well: almost all the brick, even its fragments, was used for the second time, which made difficult for us to date objects.

The earliest occupation layers here belong to the 9th- 10th centuries. In them there were found the remains of two yurt-shaped houses of about 3 and 6 m in diameter-round pits buried at 30 - 50 cm with the pole and pillar holes being tracked by perimeter from the frame of walls made of turluk (cane plastered with clay). Such constaictions can be seen in the vast area from the Volga to the Lower Danube and from the Middle Don to the Northern Caucasus. However, in the Volga region only one of them has been known so far which is located not far from modern village Bilyarskoye in Tatarstan. Thus, the constructions found in the area of Samosdelsky site are unique. It should be noted that historians discuss them as a sign of settlement of nomads, in particular, the Bulgarians. Evidently, they were the first to appear here, which is confirmed by a great deal of plastic ceramics of general Turkic types.

In the layers of the 10th - the beginning of the 11th century fragments of very much destroyed houses of turluk and adobe were preserved-square, very small, with open fireplaces. They did not exist for a long time: in the middle-end of the 11th century the city experienced a building "boom" (apparently, trade flourished) and these undeveloped houses were removed and replaced them by brick ones.

The objects approximately referred to the 12th-13th centuries were better preserved. We managed to find out a spacious dugout and several houses of 5 - 6.4 - 5 m, whose entrances faced a square site of approximately 4.6 m. They were built of the fragments of baked brick connected by clay solution by the method of shielded laying: outward there was a face undamaged part, while inside walls were leveled by clay mass. In the premises along the perimeter there were narrow adobe stove-benches (sufas) covered with brick with built-in small round stoves-tandyrs - for baking bread and heating. From the 12th century they started to lay short horizontal direct flues from them (as a rule, in pairs) - kans warming the premises. Floors were adobe, multi-layered, sunken to 30 - 40 cm. The architectural peculiarity of these houses is an entrance leading directly to one of sufas.

In the opinion which was formed up to date, the population of Golden Horde had taken the described heating system from Jurchens and Khitan*. However, where did it come to settlement of the pre-Mongolian time from? The thing is that kans were known in the South and South-Eastern Kazakhstan since 7th-8th and 10th-11th centuries (which can be connected to the fact of Turkization of local population by Central Asian tribes of Uighur and Oguzo-Kipchak origin). Possibly, they were brought to a Khazar city near present Samosdelka (as examination of the ceramics found here, in particular, shows) from, say, the lower Syrdarya River.

One of the most interesting objects of the site is a large house of many rooms dated by the beginning of the 12th century. We examined its five rooms (probably, there had been more), three of them were preserved rather well. Above all, evident asymmetry of the house as a whole, different styles of laying and sizes of brick in its parts caught our eye. Evidently, the first to appear was a square construction with wooden and adobe walls where the fragments of baked brick were used as a filler. Close to it, to the south-west there appeared the second construction made of adobe brick (with corners laid with baked brick). It is possible that they both made a single complex inside one farmland or belonged to relatives. Later on additional walls were built between them which formed a walled-in yard. Then two more "side wings" appeared to the west and east from it. This example shows that here evolution of building took place in Central Asian style, forming original urban quarters called makhallya.

A separate aspect of the activities of our expedition is multi-purpose soil and landscape researches carried out by employees and postgraduate students of the RAS Institute of Geography and Moscow State University Soil Science Faculty. Now one can state that creation and operation of the settlement (before the beginning of the 14th century) fell on the period of extremely low level of the Caspian Sea and extremely arid climate in the region. Here landscape and climatic conditions favored fishing and stock-raising type of economy, while arable farming, as well as now, was possible only with artificial irrigation. Also, natural resources let small-scale production of ceramics, and building crafts on a local raw material base.

* Jurchens are tribes of Tungus origin that lived in Eastern Manchuria from the ancient times; Khitan (Khitai) are tribes of Mongolian group who populated Western China and Mongolia in antiquity. They formed the state Liao, which was destroyed by Jurchens in 1125. - Ed.

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In the 14th century the sea level went up dramatically, and the region studied by us proved to be in a coastal delta zone, especially dangerous in case of a disastrous pileup. This could become a reason for decay and even destruction of the city: archeological data confirm desolation of its insular part by the middle of the above mentioned century. Another important result of soil science works is carbon dating of found material, due to which the lower deposits of occupation layer were referred to Khazar era of the 9th-10th centuries.

The town served as a terminal for transit trade, which was clearly demonstrated by the excavations. The main mass of findings are glazed and unglazed clay cauldrons, pots, mugs, dishes, covers, jugs, bowls of the 10th-12th centuries. A considerable number of the fragments of defective ceramics shows its local production, while among "imported" (Khorezm, Transcaucasian) ceramics there prevails the one which came from the Volga Bulgaria. This allows to speak about close connections of Samosdelsky settlement with it, possibly even about the availability of a Bulgarian trading station-the southernmost of the ones known presently.

Apart from pottery, a lot of modelled crockery were found on land surface and in occupation layers. Displaying remarkable imagination, ancient makers decorated it with ornament, which was applied on natural clay with a reed, hollow bone, toothed punch and sometimes just fingers. Handles of pots are various: loop-like, with notches, simulating ram's horns, zoomorphic, showing semi-abstractedly a feeding ram. Ornate shell-formed ears are often seen that were fastened to cauldrons. They could be globe-shaped, spiral, made from two or three plaits, or graded. Moreover, things were often richly decorated with ornamentals stuck on from above.

Such vessels are peculiar to nomad tribes of the Khazar khaganat (the Bulgarians, Khazars, Pechenegs, Oguz) and, probably, genetically connected with steppe complexes of Central Kazakhstan and the Aral Sea. It was there, in the lower reach of the Syrdarya River, at several sites, in particular, so-called bog ones which belonged, supposedly, to the Oguz* there were found time and again modelled pots of the 7th-8th centuries with a wide weakly detailed mouth decorated with notches or finger-shaped indentations. Similar ceramics can be also seen in Northern Caucasus, Taman peninsula, Don sites of Khazaria. Scientists relate this fact to a nomad component of the local population.

Such parallels allowed us to put forward a hypothesis that there were a lot of Oguz among the inhabitants of the settlement studied by us. By the way, some historians share the opinion that in the 9th-12th centuries the permanent post of fortress Sarkel (in place of the present Tsymlyanskoye reservoir) defended the west boundaries of the kaganat was formed out of them. Their tribes united with the Khazars against the Pechenegs, pushed out the latter from the lower reaches of the Volga and obtained a certain area where they started cattle-breeding on deltaic and flood meadows rich with grass. It is evident that under the formed conditions the process of settlement of this people speeded up. For sure, along the banks of local rivers there are a great deal of camps of its representatives who had defended the Khazar capital from the north and east, which have not been found as yet.

Samosdelsky settlement which by the 12th century grew and became more comfortable, according to the excavations, can be compared to legendary Saksin (Sadjsin)

* The Oguz are Turkic tribes in Central Asia in the 7th-1 Ith centuries. In the mid - 11th century some part of them inhabited south Russian steppe. - Ed.

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which was mentioned by the Arab traveler, merchant and writer Abu Khamid al-Garnaty who lived at that time. He wrote: there "forty tribes of the Oguz live, each one with its own emir"; there are a lot of Bulgarians, Khazars, "thousands of merchants from Maghrib and other countries" arrive, which speaks about intensive trade relations of the city. Al-Garnaty himself arrived in the city for the same reason.

Recent researches show that they were Oguz and Bulgarians who dominated among local inhabitants in the 10th-13th centuries, which confirms localization of Saksin in this very place. The former had agricultural, cattle-breeding, fishing economy, while the latter, apparently, acted as suppliers of handicraft goods and organizers of trade.

The problem of location of Khazaria capital-Ityl-in the 8th-10th centuries is rather complicated. There are many viewpoints with relation to it. In the opinion of some scientists, it was located 12 km to the north of present-day Astrakhan (Khadji-Tarkhan site), the others suggest that it should be looked for near Volgograd, still others, in the northern part of the Caspian Sea, in Chistaya Banka island which was a part of continent several centuries ago (when level of water was lower). As a result of exploration, there were found out the remains of citadel embankments but it turned out that they were filled there in the 1970s on the recommendation of Astrakhan hydrometeorological observatory due to the rising sea and danger of underflooding of a local livestock farm.

There are some other versions of Ityl location. One of them is that Saksin (as we imagine, Samosdelsky settlement) is its restored quarter. Let us turn to descriptions of Khazaria capital, which were left by Arab historians in the 10th century. For example, Al-Istakhri (as well as Idrisy and others) mentioned that the city was located on both the banks of the Volga: "In the western part of the city there lived the Czar, his army and the court. The size of this part of the city is about afarsakh long (5 - 6 km. - Auth.), and it is surrounded by a wall. Constructions of this city are scattered. Felt tents serve as dwellings in it, except for some houses built of clay; they have markets and bath-houses; among them there are lots of Muslims (more than 10 thousand) and they have about 30 mosques. The Czar's palace is located far from the river-bank and built of baked brick... In the eastern part of Ityl there, mainly, live merchants and Muslims, and there are goods". According to some other sources, the island and eastern coast were connected by boat bridges.

Traveler and scientist Al-Massudy noted: the capital is divided not into two but into three parts by a "big river flowing from the country of Turks... In the middle of the river there is an island in which the Czar's palace is located... In the island there is a bridge (on boats) thrown to one ofbanks". In the letter of Khazar's ruler Josef (10th century) which came to us we find similar information (about the "three towns" forming Ityl).

Most likely, at that time the settlement was "seasonal" and consisted of nomads' tents who went to the north along the Volga in summer, while in winter they came back, with which, evidently, differences in the descriptions of contemporaries who saw it at different time of the year are connected. Moreover, the Volga itself which permanently changed its bed was not steady in delta. During Al-Istakhry's visit it may have divided the capital in two, then shifted to the west, and the city turned out to be divided into three parts, which Al-Massudy stated. Also, we cannot deny the probability of quick expansion of the city-initially, suppose, there was only a fortress-castle here which then

стр. 43

became surrounded by commercial and handicraft possads (trading quarters) on both the river banks.

Another important detail. In 2005, Samosdelsky site was photographed from the helicopter, and in the photograph there appeared outlines of low and very wide flabby bars which formed a triangle around the highland with a powerful occupation level. If they were formed when dismantling the walls of the Khazar's citadel, many questions relating to interpretation of the monument would be solved. Thus, in the deposits of the 9th-the beginning of the 11th centuries the fragments of brick are seldom seen, while a century later many constructions are built of its fragments. This suggests that before the middle-end of the 11th century the settlement was surrounded by a fortress, and the occupation layer in which architects show interest actively grew inside it but much slower outside it. In the 12th century foreign threat in the person of the permanently attacking nomads disappeared, the fence was disassembled, and its material was used to build residential and public constructions. However, it is only a hypothesis for the time being and, to verify it, a new excavation was started in 2006.

One should remember that the identification of practically all objects of the Middle Ages which were found by archeologists is approximate to one or another extent. However, large sizes, planigraphia of the site under examination coinciding with many medieval descriptions, brick construction which was Czar's monopoly in Khazaria, many other indirect circumstances lead us to the conclusion about a metropolitan status of this settlement in the epoch under consideration. By the way, nobody has studied settlements like it in Astrakhan Region yet, which in itself raises the importance of the researches in Samosdelsky site. Moreover, it was here that the culture of the Saksin - settled population of the Volga delta of the pre-Mongolian time-was discovered and explored.

In the 13th century the Mongols captured and destroyed the city. Here it is appropriate to remember the story of Flemish traveler and monk Willem Rubruck (between 1215 and 1220 - 1293): "At the middle branch of the Volga there is a town called Summerkent which does not have any walls; however, during the flood, the town is surrounded by water. It had taken the Tartars 8 years to stand by it before they captured it." At that time the lower reaches of the Volga became a metropolitan region of another state-Golden Horde. Here new imposing and populous towns grew, while the old one which had become deserted and lost the previous importance could not compete with them.

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According to Iranian historian Hamdallakh Qazvini (1281-е. 1350), "Presently, Saksin is flooded; it was off and away, however, close to it now there is... Sarai Berke, a capital of the Czar of this country". Nevertheless, such a periodicity in the life of the town, identification of peaks of its decay and prosperity is the matter of the future.

The researches in Samosdelsky site expand. On the instructions of the governor of Astrakhan Region, State research-and-production entity "Naslediye" (Heritage) develops a historical and archeological complex here which is designed to perform both research and popularizing functions and, we hope, to become an attractive object for tourists. Here it is planned to create a museum in the open air where the constructions of different epochs found out in Samosdelsky site will be restored, and the medieval handicraft technological processes and economic cycle will be presented.

The first steps in this direction have already been taken. In 2005, a group of students of Astrakhan State University started reconstruction on location of an early-medieval yurt-shaped dwelling with the walls made of turluk according to the sample found at the excavation site. It will take at least 3 - 5 years to carry out the whole work, and it is divided into several stages. First of all, it is necessary to study in detail the materials found in Samosdelsky site, look for ethnographic and archeological analogies and parallels, reconstruct on location the appearance of the building. Then it will be burnt to assess an extent of destruction under the influence of fire, self-destruction of the remains (under the influence of natural weather factors), and their conservation will follow with the help of sand drift modeling. Then it will be opened and examined to reveal the peculiarities of preservation in an occupation layer. The results of this experiment will allow in future to more confidently define and interpret the preserved fragments of similar structures.

Samosdelky site is the most interesting and prospective archeological monument in the Volga delta, witness of the three eras: Khazar khaganat, pre-Mongolian period and Golden Horde. The discoveries made here will allow to reestablish many lacking links in the chain connecting the peoples who lived here in antiquity and the Middle Ages.


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