Early Iron Age and Medieval Settlements in the Olympic Construction Area (Sochi, Krasnodar Region)

In 2008–2012 rescue archaeological surveys were undertaken in the Olympic construction area in the Imeretin Lowlands and Krasnaya Polyana, Krasnodar Region. Most sites are located in the Imeretin Lowlands. The following Early Iron Age and medieval settlements were examined: Veseloye 1–3, Veseloye 5, Veseloye 7–9 and Yuzhniye Kultury 1. One settlement dating to this period and known as Aibga 1 is located in the Mountain Cluster in Krasnaya Polyana. All sites are dated to the 5th–4th centuries BC (Early Iron Age), the 5th–6th and the 12th–14th centuries (Middle Ages).

Remains of a wattle-and-daub construction were found at Veseloye 2 in the Imeretin Lowlands. The excavations revealed that dwellings with load-bearing structures made of stone had been used in the mountain areas at Aibga 1. Yuzhniye Kultury 1, which is an unfortified settlement, was used as a production center. Numerous fragments of pottery used in salt making were found. A representative collection of finds comprising around 10,000 artifacts was put together; it includes hand-made and imported classical ware, iron and bronze implements and weapons, stone hoes and sinkers. Of special interest is a group of bronze jewelry such as open-work fibulae, pendants shaped as jingling bells, temple rings and pins.

A secondary flat cemetery dating to the 4th–1st centuries BC was explored at Veseloye 2. It yielded inhumation burials containing various grave offerings such as local ceramics and vessels imitating polis ceramics, fragments of a glass classical vessel and bronze fibulae.

Excavated artifacts of the Early Iron Age are of great importance. The sites dating to this period have never been explored in the Greater Sochi area. Before excavations started the situation had been paradoxical, as ancient writers referred to the names of the population groups, which inhabited this area, in their records but there was no information about sites left behind by these groups and their material and spiritual culture. For example, Pseudo-Scylax of Caryanda (4th century BC) mentions the tribes of the Melanchlaeni that settled between the two large rives identified as the contemporary Mzymta River and the Psou River.
The Ime­retin Lowlands are located between these two rivers. Presently the sites of the 5th–4th centuries BC explored in this area can be correlated with a known historical ethnonym.

The second group of the sites unearthed in the Imeretin Lowlands is attributed to the Middle Age. These sites include a settlement and a flat cemetery known as Veseloye 3 (12th–14th centuries) and settlements known as Veseloye 7 and Veseloye 8 (11th–12th centuries). Traces of dwellings (foundation pits) were identified at the settlements. A single grave dating to the 5th–6th centuries with an amphora and an iron sword placed inside the grave was uncovered at the medieval cemetery Veseloye 3 (12th–14th centuries).

The research enabled the archaeologists to reconstruct the settlement pattern in this area in the time span from the Early Iron Age to the Middle Ages. It is now clear that the intensity rate of settlement processes and density of population in the Imeretin Lowlands were directly dependent on the conditions of a large fresh water lagoon located in the center. The population size in the Lowlands reached its peak in the 5th–4th centuries BC during the Fanagorian Regression when the lagoon was full of water and fishermen, salt makers, agriculturalists and herders set up their settlements on its shorelines. When the regression ended and the climate became drier, the lagoon gradually turned into feverish swamps and in the Middle Ages people moved away from the lagoon to tap resources along the Mzymta and Psou banks.

Thanks to large-scale archaeological studies conducted by the Institute in the Imeretin Lowlands, the Olympic construction area is now one of the most well-studied archaeological areas in the Western Caucasus.

R.A. Mimokhod,

A.A. Kleshchenko,

A.Yu. Skakov

Digital Version of the Booklet