The fortified settlement of Staraya Ryazan is the only capital of a large principality of pre-Mongol Rus, which became a classical ‘dead city’ when it was burned and pillaged by Batu Khan. Absence of contemporary housing helped very much in conducting archaeological investigations. The first archaeological research at this site of the Rus city was carried in 1822.
The magnitude of the Mongol invasion was reflected in another distinctive feature of Staraya Ryazan. The city ranks second after Kiev in the number of treasure hoard finds that witnessed the tragedy.
It is the discovery of a treasure hoard of jewelry in 1822 that became a starting point of Staraya Ryazan archaeological studies and publication of first volumes describing the site. Subsequently the fortified settlement was repeatedly explored in the 19th century. In 1926 V.A. Gorodstov carried out the first large-scale excavations in Staraya Ryazan, which were planned to be the first stage of multiyear studies, but the plans did not come to fruition.
Modern exploration of this unique site began with the expedition led by A.L. Mongait in Staraya Ryazan in 1945–1950, which was resumed in 1955. In 1970–1979 excavations were continued by V.P. Darkevich and subsequently by A.V. Chernetsov in 1994; I.Yu. Strikalov has been the head of the expedition since 2010.
Despite large-scale efforts undertaken in many years, the explored fortified area does not exceed 5%.
Staggering treasure hoards of jewelry give a special flavor to Staraya Ryazan. One such hoards, the sixteenth in succession, was discovered in 2005 in the south-eastern part of the medieval city in the area that had not previously shown any promise of finds. The restoration of the finds took a lot of time and the book describing the complete hoard was not published until 2014. The latest treasure hoard, the seventeenth in succession, was discovered a short while ago in 2013. It was concealed in the oldest part of the city known as Severnoye Gorodishche (North Fortified settlement) where no treasure hoards had ever been found. The treasure hoard is interesting because it consists of unfinished items, specific finds related to production and jewelry materials suggesting that the treasure was hidden away by a jeweler.
Scientific interests of the scholars are, of course, not limited to such dramatic finds as treasure hoards, handicraft items of artistic value, and ruins of ancient churches. The recent stage of activities in Staraya Ryazan has been marked by enhanced interest to the exploration of defense constructions, the layout of urban residential areas and specific urban estates as well as social topography. Significant fieldwork in the extramural part of the city and large-scale fieldwalking in its immediate vicinity of the city conducted for the first time were very helpful in tracing changes in the settlement pattern.
As a landmark of much significance, Staraya Ryazan demands a comprehensive interdisciplinary approach and use of a broad range of science methods. In recent years geo-radar studies of a large part of the site, geomorphological and paleoecological studies have been carried out.
Economic and technical advances are of paramount importance in the history of any society; therefore, archaeologists have to pay a lot of attention to the study of ancient productions. Systemic studies of ceramic production in Staraya Ryazan conducted in recent years produced a chronology of ceramic types subdivided into periods, traced influence of production traditions from various regions in Rus, and explored smithcraft.
In addition to products, implements of craftsmen and their production shops may be studied at the site. Of interest are kilns and furnaces used in pottery-making, metallurgy and metalworking. A two-tier kiln of the 11th century was found in the extramural part of the city in 2013; it changed our concepts about the time when such constructions appeared in North East Rus. Furnaces for producing iron subsequently replaced the kiln. A heating construction dated to the latest time, which is the middle of the 18th century, was uncovered in 2011 in the extramural part of the city. It was a brick kiln used to produce construction material for a rural church built nearby, which has survived to the present day. More than 40 bronze casting molds for jewelry that formed part of the seventeenth treasure hoard were discovered in 2013–2014. Some casting molds were not finished (some flashes were not trimmed), several casting molds were intermediary pieces made of tin; therefore, a complete process of jewelry making may be reconstructed. By exploring economic and production issues, we get back to crafts, arts and treasure hoards of Staraya Ryazan.