The 3rd century BC is a watershed period in the history of the Bosporan Kingdom rural sites. It was the time when large settlements occupied in the preceding period were replaced by a new type of sites such as well fortified settlements built on small coastal promontories. While layers and finds dating to the 3rd – 1st centuries BC are recorded at many local sites, only few of them provide a full picture of the defensive system, urban development planning, economic and religious life of the population.
In the period between 2010 and 2014 the Eastern Crimean expedition continued excavations of rural fortified settlements of the Hellenistic and Late Hellenistic period, namely, Polyanka, Krutoy Bereg and Syuyurtash (Zolotoye Vostochnoye).
The first settlement (the total excavated area is 3,370 m2) is located in a small coastal valley. All construction remains and occupation layers are dated to the 1st century BC. Buildings of three construction periods represented by household blocks (houses-quarters) separated by narrow, partially paved streets as well as a long section of the south defensive wall of up to 1.8–2 m in width and up to 1.5 m in height built during the last period of the settlement occupation were discovered in the south-western part of the settlement. A distinctive feature of the site is presence of a thick layer of ash and garbage, which were dumped from the east hill. The layer is rich in various finds of the 3rd–2nd centuries BC and overlies and underlies constructions and deposits mentioned earlier. The formation of this layer is related to a rather large settlement, which existed on a coastal plateau but was subsequently destroyed, apparently, by some natural disaster. Remains of the constructions and the occupation layer of the period were identified in the preserved part of the site on the hill top. The finds discovered in recent years include more than hundred amphora stamps; several coins, including a rather rare coin from the town of Amisos dating to the beginning of the 1st century BC; fragments of terracotta figurines; ‘Megara’ cups; as well as two lines of graffito on the wall of a black glaze kantharos (words of wishing health at a party), which is one of the earliest artifacts at the settlement.
At the next site known as Krutoy Bereg (early 3rd – 2nd centuries BC, 2,200 m2 of the excavated area) the Expedition continued to explore the south defensive system (the wall and the gate) and residential quarters north of the defensive system. Remains of constructions and middens of three construction and chronological periods were identified. In the first half of the 3rd century the settlement was attacked, which is verified by traces of fire in the defensive wall area, additional rows of boulders placed to reinforce the wall and the find of a large stone ball. Residential quarters had a line layout; the walls of the houses were oriented according to the cardinal directions. Judging by the dating of most finds, including dozens of amphora stamps, the fortified settlement reached its peak of development in 280–220 BC. A hearth, a terracotta figurine of Cybele with a timbrel lying nearby, diminutive vessels and spindle whorls, apparently, from a home sanctuary were uncovered in one of the rooms.
The excavations continued in the north-eastern part of Zolotoye Vostochnoye (Syuyurtash). Five seasons of excavations explored occupation deposits and construction remains of four construction and chronological periods in the area of around 1,400 m2.
Constructions of period I are represented by pits dug in the natural soil, apparently, granaries, as suggested by traces of clay on the walls and grain remains. It seems that in period II the greater part of the fortified settlement was occupied by religious constructions. The latter include the so called big wall (18 m long, up to 2.7 m thick, surviving height of up to 2 m) with a passage around 1.5 m wide that had a large threshold. At a distance of up to 10–15 m north and south of the wall the Expedition identified remains of two structures, with some ‘constructions’ (hearths and small pits filled with ash, shells of mussels, fragments of pots and animal bones) located nearby. Fragmented terracotta figurines were found near these ‘altars’. A large fragmented terracotta statuette of an enthroned goddess wearing a tall headwear was found on the floor of one structure. Two more heads, most likely, of similar terracotta statuettes were found north of this structure. Subsequently the big wall as well as constructions north of the wall were overlaid by a deposit of ash and garbage soil (more than two meters thick in some places). Thereafter this section was re-occupied by the city inhabitants.
The finds are represented by fragments (breakage) of amphorae, coming, largely, from the most typical centers of import at that time (Rhodes, Sinope, Knidos, Colchis) as well as fragments of hand-made, and, less frequently, red clay and grey clay as well as black glaze vessels. It is worth mentioning more than a hundred amphora stamps, several dozen different fragments of imported ‘Megara’ cups, rare Panticapaeum coins, single finds of graffiti and dipinti; all these finds are taken to mean that chronologically the study area of the site can be referred to the second quarter of the 3rd – turn of the 1st centuries BC.
Therefore, the 2010–2014 excavations allowed the archaeologists to single out several urban development periods at the settlements, specify the time of their occupation and features of layout.
In 2013–2014 explorations were undertaken in small areas at the ash dump on the outskirts of a rural settlement near the Sirenevaya Bay. As has been established, an even clayed ground fenced with a small stone wall along its perimeter was built near the coastal cliff. The ash and garbage layer that included various finds was formed because ash and waste were tipped to the ground for a long time (between late 2nd and 6th centuries AD). Fragments of amphorae, red glaze and hand-made vessels predominate; however, items, most likely, associated with the sacral practice of the settlement inhabitants such as votive clay bread with scratched letters, diminutive vessels, primitive clay hand-made figurines, fragments of hand-made incense-burners, cruse lamps, and spindle whorls are present as well.
The exploration of the ash dump provides information on previously unknown features of the rural population religious life. Some finds imply that in the 2nd–6th centuries AD these beliefs were syncretic, which means that despite the spread of Christianity, elements of pagan beliefs persisted in this region.