One of the most far-flung
outposts of Greek civilization is quietly situated on the Black
Sea coast of Ukraine. The 2,500-year-old
city of Chersonesos has been home to the Greeks, Romans, Byzantines
and Slavs and has survived invasions by the Mongols, Ottoman Turks
and others. It’s the entry point of the Orthodox faith to
Russia. It’s neighbor to modern Sevastopol, the secretive
site of the Soviet Black Sea fleet. Yet few outside the region
have heard of the site, and even fewer have visited.
view in 2001 of Chersonesos with the renovated St. Volodymyr’s
Church. The entrance to Sevastopol Harbor is in the distance.
This is expected
to change in coming decades, due in large part to the work of The
University of Texas at Austin’s Institute
of Classical Archaeology (ICA).
ICA has been working at Chersonesos
since 1992 when its director and founder, Dr. Joseph Coleman Carter,
was invited to the site
by the National Preserve of Tauric Chersonesos. Over the next decade,
ICA created long-term collaborations with the Preserve and the
governments of Ukraine and Sevastopol. Those collaborations evolved
beyond simply excavating the site.
The organizations are now working
together on multiple plans to preserve Chersonesos for future generations,
with very substantial
backing from the Packard Humanities Institute (PHI) enabling them
to do so. Among the projects is the creation of a unique archaeological
park at Chersonesos that will preserve the unique ancient landscape
of the city and its territory, or “chora.” Visitors
will witness ancient wheat production, an ancient vineyard and
gardens, including an herb garden. It will be the first-ever park
of a chora, illuminating rural life of the past for visitors and
bringing tourists to the area to help stimulate the local economy.
“No one expected in the early ’90s that ICA would
be in such a role,” says Asele Surina, program coordinator
for ICA. “Chersonesos
was a research project. But the need was so great and the people
were so eager and responsive that momentum began to build. And
now we as an institution feel a sense of responsibility to the
glass lamp stand, first half of 5th century A.D.
Chersonesos is sometimes compared to the famous site
of Pompeii, the ancient city perpetually preserved after the eruption
Vesuvius buried it in ash. The territory of Chersonesos contains
many stone farmhouses, and much of the dense grid of country lanes
that divided the chora still exists. And the artifacts recovered
at the site—from decorated sarcophagi to mosaic floors
to household items in blue glass—are as impressive as those
found at any site around the world.
“Here is a city that is almost completely preserved, because
nothing was built over it,” says Carter. “It was simply
Today locals pass through the ancient city to
get to the beaches on its coast, and a handful of families come
to the chora to visit
their dachas, or country homes. But while Ukraine acknowledges
Chersonesos as a critical part of its cultural heritage—an
image of the city appears on the one-hryvnya note, the equivalent
of the U.S. dollar bill—making this monument to the past
accessible to the world has been a challenge.
political map of Ukraine and the Black Sea region.
ICA first helped by
applying on behalf of the Preserve to the World Monuments Fund
to put Chersonesos on the list of most endangered
sites. When the Ukrainian government came to the conclusion that
it should nominate the site to the UNESCO World Heritage List,
ICA stepped in to help with that. Plans for conserving the site
and creating an archaeological park are also driven by the goals
of the Preserve itself.
“It’s really nice to be able to help them,” says
are so devoted to the site, giving their lives working for a great
goal, but with little monetary reward. All of a sudden they have
this opportunity. It’s very meaningful for all of us. And
something very tangible and completely driven by what people are
Working with preservation at this level is a
recent turn for ICA. Its real claim to fame is its pioneering work
in the archaeology
of the chora. In fact, ICA is recognized as an international leader
in the study of rural populations in the classical world.
have generally focused on the city, just as ancient historians
focused on the urban culture. Yet even in the ancient
world, the city only represented a portion of the life of the populace.
figure fish plate, 4th century B.C.
“We have plenty of evidence to show that the majority of
the ancient world probably lived in the countryside, contrary to
have thought in the past,” says Carter.
The economy of the
ancient world was, to a large extent, based on agriculture, and
much of its population lived outside the cities.
In fact, the cities themselves grew up around areas where good
farmland was discovered and the economic basis for life was established.
The city could not survive in isolation.
project on the study of rural populations began in 1974 at Metaponto
in the far south of Italy. Its work
has turned the common image of the archaeologist—with wide-brimmed
hat and brush in hand—on its head.
“We’ve carried archaeology a bit further than classical
archaeologists have in the past,” says Carter. “We
look to economic motivations and causative explanations that go
and battles and so forth. What was the situation of the land? Why
were these people suffering from malaria and syphilis? What crops
were they raising? Why did their economy fail?”
of mosaic floor made of marble, limestone sandstone and terracotta,
with a chalice and peacocks, 6th century A.D.
questions like these requires a multidisciplinary approach. Archaeologists
working with ICA still survey the land. But at the
same time palaeobotanists study seeds to determine what crops were
common in the ancient world. Geomorphologists conduct intense studies
of the soil. Physical anthropologists examine human remains. ICA
even helped move archaeology into the space age.
ICA has partnered
with the university’s Center for Space
Research (CSR) to use remote sensing images from space to view
ancient territories. ICA and CSR received a major grant from NASA
to study the imagery over Chersonesos, which enables researchers
to better understand the way land was divided in the chora.
“I think we can be considered a leader in this area,” says
Carter. “No other project has had the same range that we
have in terms of the scientific approaches that have been employed.”
scientific approaches have allowed ICA to shed light on a broader
swath of the ancient world than ever before. For example,
ICA has published detailed studies on the diet and nutrition of
the people of Metaponto and its surroundings. At the same time
it’s examined the relationships between colonizing peoples
and those who are colonized. And in a groundbreaking finding, it
discovered that the ancient people of Metaponto suffered from syphilis,
a disease thought to have been introduced to Europe from the new
world, but actually present in Metaponto 2,000 years before Columbus.
casket in engraved silver, 550 A.D.
work at Metaponto is ongoing, and its discoveries at Metaponto
made ICA uniquely qualified to assist in excavations
Chersonesos is where Slavic archaeology
began, and excavations at the ancient city site have been underway
for almost two centuries.
But among Chersonesos’s distinguishing features is that its
chora is one of the best-preserved monuments of its kind in the
world, and a grid of ancient roads and the ruins of about 140 rural
estates exist to this day. No other area is quite so suited to
As ICA brings the full range
of archaeology to the chora of Chersonesos, Chersonesos brings
a new focus to ICA. The need to not just excavate
but also preserve and develop the site encouraged ICA to evolve
from an organization focused on rural archaeology to one geared
toward public archaeology as well.
“Public archaeology is a branch of archaeology where you
try to combine the interests of all parties, scholars and the local
the government and the tourism sector,” says Glenn Mack,
Ukraine project director at ICA. “You try to bring them all
together to reach an agreement for the common good. And the common
good is to preserve these monuments, these areas of ancient civilization,
and make them physically and intellectually accessible.”
1935 Basilica, named for the year that its excavation began,
has become a symbol of Chersonesos.
ICA is fortunate that generous backing from PHI makes this work
possible. ICA will continue to partner with the Preserve
and the Ukrainian and Crimean governments to develop Chersonesos
into a site that will draw tourists and scholars from all over
the world. And a first step in generating interest in the site
is making the site’s history and findings available.
end, ICA and the National Preserve of Chersonesos published the
Chersonesos: City, Chora, Museum, and Environs” last
fall. The book marks the first time since 1913 that anything extensive
has been written in English about the site. And it’s a stunning
publication, featuring hundreds of color photographs and architectural
reconstructions of the site. It’s a first introduction of
the site to the world, and represents the kind of vision that ICA
brings to the field of archaeology.
“Excavation and study, yes, we do both every summer,” says
Mack. “But the publications and the building of a laboratory
at the museum and undertaking an archaeological park represent
a significant long-term plan. Most archaeologists wouldn’t
commit themselves to such a degree.”
But once upon a time,
most archaeologists wouldn’t bother
studying the territory outside the city. ICA has a 30-year history
of expanding the scope of archaeological investigation.
“What ICA has done is change the approach to archaeology in a broad
sense,” says Carter. “Archaeology is no longer just
pots and walls.”
Photos: Christopher Williams from
Chersonesos: City, Chora, Museum, and Environs”