Latest Archaeological Discoveries in Novgorod the Great

In 2014 the Novgorod archaeological expedition of the Institute conducted a large-scale excavation on the Trade Side of Novgorod the Great in the southern part of the medieval Plotnitsky
End (Bolshaya Moskovskaya 30). The Rogatisky-2 excavation trench covered 300 m2, while in some sections the thickness of the occupation layer reached 6.5 m. The assemblage found in the excavation trench includes more than 8,000 items made of various materials as well as an assortment of some 700,000 fragments of pottery, animal, bird and fish bones and leather trimmings.

In the 10th century this area was tilled land. Traces of furrows left by a wooden plough were clearly visible in the natural soil, while early wheel-turned pottery samples were collected from the tilled layer. At the end of the 10th – early 11th centuries this area was divided into allotments used for vegetable gardens by a wicker fence, while the initial delineation of the area in estates is dated to the first half of the 11th century.

Four land parcels fenced off by logged palisades were recorded in the layers attributed to the 11th–12th centuries; the area of the parcels had residential and domestic houses with remains of wooden floors and stoves on wooden opecheks (forehearth casing). The layers yielded a silver Samanid dirham of the late 10th century, North German denarii of the 11th century, and a lead hanging seal of Svyatoslav Yaroslavich, Prince of Chernigov and Kiev (1054–1076), who was the son of Yaroslav the Wise. A bronze follis of Constantine the Great (306–337) depicting Roma, a female deity, and the Capitoline Wolf with infants Romulus and Remus was found in the layer dating to the mid-11th century. This find, sensational not only for Novgorod, but also for all Rus cities, cannot be used for dating purposes. The coin can only demonstrate early contracts of Novgorod with Byzantium, Scandinavia or Western Europe.

Finds of three birch bark letters (No. 1056–1058), Christian devotional items, weapons, various jewelry and household goods date to the 11th–12th centuries. Traces of casting production (metal scrap, metal splashing, runners, crucibles, smelting ladles, casting forms and finished items with traces of casting waste) and iron working debris (blooms and slag) were recovered from the estates of this period.

Early in the 13th century the estates were abandoned and the land was divided into allotments for vegetable gardens. The desolation may have been caused by outbreaks of epidemics in 1216 or 1230. It was not until the second half of the 13th century that this area of Novgorod came to life again. Rich estates appeared (five allotments were identified), whose boundaries changed throughout the 14th–15th centuries. Timber houses were located along the fences and formed a small courtyard paved with half-beams. Remains of floorboards placed on crossbeams and forehearth casings on logged pillars survived in the houses to the present day.

Layers of the 14th – early 15th centuries are abundant with finds. Five birch bark documents (No. 1051–1055) that are private letters of business related to trade were recovered from these layers. Several metal pencils were discovered as well.

Ten Rus lead hanging seals of the 14th–15th centuries include three bullae that have not yet been described. The most interesting is the seal of posadnik Ontsifor Lukinich (1342–1367), a well-known figure in Novgorod history, a representative of Novgorodian boyar dynasty of the Mishinish connected with the Nerevsky End, which was one of Novgorod districts. On the obverse of the seal are four lines of the inscription ‘SEAL OF POSADNIK ONSTIFOR’, the reverse depicts a rider, who is a saint, in profile to the right.

The seal with the inscription on both sides ‘SEAL OF LUKA DANILOVICH’ is attributed to the individual not mentioned in other written sources.

The third unique seal, with five lines of the inscription on the obverse and a saint depicted on the reverse, belongs to a Novotorzhsky imperious vicar of the Novgorod archbishop and is dated to the first half of the 15th century.

Other seals are new samples of Novgorod bullae already described and published, including the seal of Archbishop David (1309–1325) and Archbishop Moses (1326–1330, 1352–1359), as well as seals of archbishop’s vicars (appointed to administer outlying districts) and governor’s assistants known as Vasilko and Nikita.

The collection of metal items of the 14th–15th centuries is quite representative and includes personal devotional items, various jewelry pieces, and plaques with anthropomorphous and zoomorphic ornament. A round cast openwork plaque produced in Western Europe depicts a musician playing gusli-plsaltery; this find is a great rarity. It belongs to the end of the 14th – early 15th centuries.

Various items characterizing trade between Novgorod and the Hanseatic League in the 14th century include a collection of West European trade and commerce seals used to impress cloths as well as fragments of oak barrels with geometric signs carved on the lid, known as Hausmarke and Hofmark (house or court brands). Such barrels were used by merchants to transport wine, herring, copper scrap and other goods to Novgorod.

Excavation finds in Novgorod the Great are of special interest because distinctive features of the occupation layer help not only date archaeological assemblages with fair confidence but also document chronological timelines when some items were in use. New finds are an important historical source for exploring history and culture both Novgorod the Great and entire Rus.

P.G. Gaidukov,
O.M. Oleinikov

Digital Version of the Booklet