Phanagoria is justly regarded as one of the major sites of classical antiquity on Russian soil. Its archaeological exploration is a multidisciplinary team effort. Excavations are currently conducted in the territory of the city site and its necropolis, as well as in that part of ancient Phanagoria which is now submerged by the sea. Apart from this, the rural area is investigated using GIS technology and remote sensing techniques. The research team unites specialists in different fields.
The excavations at the city site are carried out in the central part of Phanagoria, on the acropolis. The discovery of the city blocks dating from the late 6th – first half of the 5th centuries BC has been one of the most important results achieved so far. Several mud brick buildings of that period have been uncovered. Some of them served public functions, the others were private houses. Two public buildings were fairly large (by the standards of the time): each with an area of over 100 m2. Both had no fewer than four rooms (the buildings are partially located outside the edges of the excavation site). They were built perpendicular to each other and formed an almost right angle, thus enclosing the part of the city where the central square must have been located. Together, they are likely to have been an ‘administrative quarter’. This conclusion is supported by the artifacts found in the same archaeological context, including a small mud brick altar that was unearthed in the largest room of one of the buildings (the area of the room is 50 m2).
The private houses discovered in the central part of the city were all built of mud bricks without stone foundations. They usually consisted of one or two rooms and had a total area of about 40–50 m2. One such dwelling had two rooms located in a row (18 and 20 m2). An entrance paved with small pebbles led to the house from the street (or from the courtyard). The door opening was framed with wooden beams; the floor was made from rammed earth. The house was destroyed by a large fire at the turn of the second quarter of the 5th century BC. All the nearby houses built in that period suffered the same fate.
The city blocks were built according to a uniform plan and were oriented in the same direction on the entire area of the excavation site (2,550 m2). This resulted from the joint efforts of the polis administration and the architect.
The research team continues systematic investigation of the necropolis, the largest in the Asiatic Bosporos. During each field season, large-scale excavations are conducted at the Eastern necropolis, where the Phanagoria Historical and Archaeological Museum-Preserve is planned to be built. The total excavated area in this section measures several thousand square meters. In recent years, over 100 burial complexes dating to the period from Hellenism to Late Antiquity have been examined using modern research methods and techniques. Burials of the Roman time are the most numerous. They were made in stone and earth chamber tombs, undercut graves covered with wooden planks, or in simple pit graves. Of special interest are several Roman-period burials made in stone chamber tombs and covered by mounds, now leveled. Such structures are rarely found in Phanagoria. One of these tombs yielded remains of more than 70 individuals.
Apart from this, annual excavations are carried in the so-called ‘Alley of Kurgans’ in the Southern necropolis. In addition to the follow-up study of collapsed chamber tombs dating from the Roman and Migration periods, kurgans of the 4th century BC have also been explored. One of them was found to contain a number of cremation burials (some of the dead had been burnt in situ, the others elsewhere). Prior to the erection of the tumulus, this land plot had been used for crop cultivation.
While investigating the submerged part of Phanagoria, the researchers also follow a multidisciplinary approach. A total of 48 hectares of the Taman Gulf area underwent detailed magnetic and high-frequency acoustic surveys, which have shown the great potential of the modern equipment for locating the objects otherwise invisible on the seabed. Upon assessing the results of the non-destructive investigations within the broader topographic context (including the location of the test-pits and excavation sites), the underwater archaeological team has come up with some suggestions for further research.
In 2012, the hull of a wooden undecked ship was discovered and fully cleaned. The vessel appeared to have survived in a good state of preservation. During the follow-up investigations of 2014, a unique V-shaped metallic naval ram, more than 1 m in length, was found nearby the ship. Judging from the star and crescent that appear on this massive artifact, the ram must have been attached to the bow of a warship that once belonged to Mithradates VI Eupator, the great ruler of the Bosporan Kingdom. To all appearance, this vessel, measuring 16.5 by 3.5 m (perhaps an auxiliary ship of the bireme type with two decks of oars), was burnt down when the city came under attack in 63 BC.
Systematic investigations in the Phanagorian khôra (also known as chora) help to reveal the network of ancient roads and the overall settlement pattern in the rural territory of the polis. Based on the analysis of the chronological and spatial distribution of the collected archaeological data, a number of previously unknown sites have been detected.