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Archeological Research Campaign of 2005–2006 in the Bay of Sudak/Crimea

Victoria Bulgakova, Institute for Greek and Latin Languages, Free University of Berlin, Project Grant 2005–2006

With the generous support of Dumbarton Oaks, the Institute of Archaeology of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine was able to carry out, from June to September 2005, a second maritime archaeological research campaign in the Bay of Sudak/Crimea, continuing the excavations that took place in the summer of 2004. In the course of the campaign of 2005, a seabed-area of over 28,000 wuare meters was investigated. About 1300 archaeological artifacts, mainly lead, were discovered, which testify to the various activities in the port of Sudak. The artifacts include:

  1. Devices for the control of transportation of goods: Byzantine lead seals and different kinds of rings used for the sealing and packing of goods.
  2. Commercial equipment (coins, coin and trade weights, scales) and articles of trade like lead bars.
  3. Objects used in recreational and religious activities at the docks: fishing gear, jewelry, dress attachments like buckles and buttons, and objects of devotion.
  4. Nautical equipment: rigging rings and fragments of ship-hull coating.

These finds indicate that commercial and nautical activities in the port of Sudak can be traced from the 3rd to the 17th century, i.e. from the time of the Bosporus Kingdom to the Ottoman Porte period.

Besides excavations in the bay, the remains of defensive structures on the mainland that were intended to protect the docks were investigated. With the help of radiocarbon analysis, these structures, which were until now believed to have been erected in the 7th or 8th century, could be dated to a period between the 3rd and the early 5th century. The "Coastal Fortification" in the center of the port district could be dated to a time between 223 and 429, and the tower on the southwestern side of the Fortress Hill to a time between 235 and 440. This corresponds with the early dating of the port complex, which, according to underwater finds of Bosporian coins and early Byzantine weights, was already in use between the 3rd and the 6th century.

Most of the finds discovered in the bay belong to the Byzantine period (6th–12th century). Only a small number of finds originates from the time of the Italian domination over Sudak (13th–15th century). This seems remarkable, especially since, from the second half of the 13th to the early 14th century, Sudak became the largest port on the Black Sea. The sparsity of finds from the Italian period might be due to the fact that the character of commerce in the port of Sudak changed with the Italian occupation, with slave trade coming to play a central role.

Among the finds excavated in the bay of Sudak in 2005 were 63 Byzantine lead seals of the 7th–12th centuries, 3 trade seals, and 2 seal blanks. Like the finds of the archaeological campaign of 2004, the seals were discovered throughout the bay, particularly in places where remains of the docks are situated. Here, they were located in interrelated complexes with other objects. This indicates that their sedimentation resulted immediately from activities on the ships and piers.

The results of the archaeological campaign of 2005/06 strongly confirm the conclusions we have drawn from our excavations during the first campaign in 2004, namely that the earlier hypothesis—that seal-finds in Sudak Bay originated from a supposed municipal or customhouse archive—is effectively invalidated.

In a wider perspective, the results of the underwater excavations at Sudak challenge previous interpretations of the phenomenon of maritime (Constantinople, Sudak, Cherson), fluvial or on-land (Drogičin, Novgorod, Preslav) accumulations of seals in the Middle Ages. A strong case can be made that sigillographic complexes are mostly related to the handling of commercial cargo and do not, as has been generally assumed until now, originate from the remains of archives.