Derbent Expedition: New season - new discoveries


The Institute of History, Archaeology and Ethnography of the Dagestan Scientific Center of the Russian Academy of Sciences has launched its 44th field season of the Derbent archaeological expedition. Our correspondent met with the expedition leader, the head of the institute’s archeology department, Doctor of Historical Sciences, Professor Murtazali Gajiyev to learn about the latest and the upcoming research in the ancient city.

- As a rule, you conduct the expedition research in summer, but this year, you started already in March...

- Oh yes, this year has been really busy, will have a lot of archaeological work to do until autumn. Since early March, we’ve been digging in the coastal part of the city, which was called Shekher-Younan ("Greek city") in late Middle Ages. Later, in the 18-19th centuries, this part of the city was called Dubara ("Two walls") because this uninhabited territory lay between 2 city walls. The area was settled in the 9-13th centuries, but after the Mongol invasion, it was devastated until the 19th century, that is for over 600 years.

- What did the 2014 research show in this part of the city?

- We revealed powerful cultural strata of 9-13th centuries, and the associated architectural and household leftovers – walls, floors, large grounded household vessels, bread ovens, etc. Quite unexpectedly, we found graves of the pre-Mongol cultural layer.

- Can you give details?

- We revealed several burial sites in simple ground graves. The people were all buried following Christian rites. A few graves had remains of wooden coffins, we found some wrought nails and bronze baptismal crosses enabling us to determine the date of burial and the person’s religion and ethnicity. The crosses date as far back as 17-18 centuries making them witnesses to Peter I’s rule (1722-1735) – after Peter I’s Persian (Caspian) campaign in Derbent, and we know that the Russian garrison was stationed right next to the burial sites.

- What is the meaning of this discovery?

- First of all, this is another opened page of Derbent’s, Dagestan and Russian history associated with the name of Peter the Great. Prior to that, all we knew 2 Christian (Orthodox) cemeteries in Derbent started in the 19th century. We also know that in the lower part of the city, they built a large mud fortification housing the Russian garrison. This cemetery seems to belong to this garrison. After Russian troops withdrew from Derbent, the fortification was gradually abandoned and destroyed, so was the small cemetery. Soon, the skeletal remains will be transferred to anthropologists to identify their sex, age, possibly the cause of death, and the deceased will be then solemnly reburied.

- What are the expedition plans for the future?

- First of all, it’s a large-scale study of the memorial complex of the 11-12 centuries we revealed last April on Mamedbekov St., Derbent. I recall that the construction works held without archaeological supervision revealed an impressive stone fence wall and some stone steles with religious Arabic texts – the magnificent epigraphy monuments of the 11-12 centuries. We are starting to dig soon hoping to come out with very interesting results and discoveries shedding new light on the "golden" period in Derbent’s history.

Later, we plan to move on with excavations at the ancient Derbent settlement of the mid 1st millennium AD we started in 2012. The settlement is the Derbent’s forth-comer. It is identified with the fortification city of Chor – an important military, strategic, administrative, political, and religious center of Caucasian Albania and Sasanian Iran well known from early medieval written documents.

- Thanks for the interview. We wish you good luck and new discoveries.

- Thank you. We will inform you and your readers about our expedition discoveries. 

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