Den' - The Day
October 3, 2000 issue
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CULTURE Section, The Day, #26, page 7

I doubt many of us can easily remember what is depicted on the reverse side of the our humble Ukrainian one hryvnia banknote. It depicts the ruins of Chersonesos, a unique monument of human history and culture.

Chersonesos Taurica (the Greek colonies in the Crimea) was founded by colonists from Miletus between the seventh and fifth centuries BC. Chersonesos proper emerged on a rocky peninsula between the now existing Quarantine and Sandy Bays of Sevastopol. Translated from old Greek, “Chersonesos'" means "peninsula", while Tauris (also the name of a tribe descended from the Cimmerians) is the name the Hellenes applied to the Crimea's southern coast. Chersonesos was a typical Greek polis, i.e., an independent democratically governed city-state. The popular assembly of free citizens would decide on matters of war and peace and confirm laws. The annually elected city council would draw up draft laws and supervise the performance of administrative bodies.

Chersonesos, a major political, economic, and cultural center of the region, played an outstanding role in the development of many ancient peoples. In its almost 2000-year-long history, Chersonesos saw periods of economic upsurge and political might, as swell as periods of decline, when it fell under the influence of the Roman and Byzantine Empires. In the second half of the ninth century and at the turn of the tenth century, Chersonesos (Cherson in the Middle Ages and Korsun in the Old Rus' chronicles) was closely linked to Kyivan Rus'. One chronicle says that the Kyivan Prince Volodymyr Sviatoslavovych sent military aid to the Byzantine Emperor Basil II at the latter's request, but the emperor failed to meet his contractual obligations. In response, Volodymyr seized Chersonesos and demanded that Anne, the emperor's sister, become his wife. Byzantium was forced to conclude a peace treaty with Kyivan Rus', while Volodymyr succeeded in winning Anne's hand and was baptized in Chersonesos.

In 1223, the Crimea saw, for the first time, Batu Khan's Tatar Mongols who later seized Cherson. In the mid-fourteenth century, the city was placed under control of the Genoese who had long had military-strategic and commercial interests in the Crimea. The Chersonites were still trying to survive in the existing conditions but in 1399 the city was again sacked, this time by the Crimean Tatars. In the mid-fifteenth century, the last residents finally left the city.

Chersonesos-Cherson-Korsun began a new life in the late eighteenth century when the Crimea was annexed by Russia. In 1827, the first archeological excavations were carried out at the suggestion of Admiral A. S. Greig. But the most large-scale excavations were performed in the 19th century by Count A. S. Uvarov, a renowned archeologist, arts patron, and public figure, and K. K. Kosciuszko-Waluzinicz, a connoisseur and enthusiast of ancient history. The artifacts the latter had collected made it possible to establish The Storehouse of Local Antiquities, Kherson's first museum.

Now the museum is a major research center connected with academic institutions and universities in various countries. In 1978, the museum was converted into a State Historical and Archeological Preserve, and in 1994 into the Chersonesos Taurica National Preserve. 

The UNESCO has entered Chersonesos in the list of 150 most important ancient monuments, next to such wonders of the world as the Egyptian pyramids, Athens's Parthenon, and Rome's Coliseum. Each year, several foreign archeological expeditions work in Chersonesos. What presents interest in terms of organization, structure, goals, and future perspectives, is the international team headed by US Professor Joseph Coleman Carter, director of the Institute of Classical Archaeology at the University of Texas, Austin. Prof. Carter granted The Day the courtesy of answering a few questions. 

“When and why did you develop an interest in archeology?"

"I was between 12 and 14, when I studied Latin in a Chicago school. The lady teacher of Latin initiated me into the ancient world and its history. She noticed and did her best to support my interest in the events of the distant past. My father, a scholar, also has a great influence on me: it was he who instilled in me my interest in research."

"When did Chersonesos come into the field of your scholarly interests?"

"I took an interest in Chersonesos fourteen years ago. All I was interested in as a researcher was and is how people lived in ancient times — in the countryside, not in towns. This applies to their way of life, traditions, everyday life, and mentality of the people who lived then. I was prompted to do this by the works of the outstanding Romanian scholar Dinu Ada-mesteanu who concluded that a sizable part of the ancient population dwelled outside the walls of settlements, i.e., in the countryside, and were engaged, of course, in agriculture. There are two places in the world where one can study this problem: in Italy (Metaponto) and in Chersonesos. In 1974 I began to carry out excavations in Metaponto. I was interested in the size of land plots, in what it was to be a big landlord in those times, how much land one needed for this, which crops were grown and how they were sold. Simultaneously, I took interest in Chersonesos, but this was very difficult, for practically all publications on Chersonesos were available only in Russian and Ukrainian. I began to translate them myself and think about how to link my research with Chersonesos. The dream began to come true in 1992,after l took part in a scholarly conference of the Black Sea states. There I met the scholar Yuri Vinogradov who worked in Kherson at the time. He invited me to take part in the symposium to be held in Kherson in the same 1992. To be frank, I felt skeptical about getting into Kherson, for Sevastopol was then a closed city. Still, I was able to get a visa a year after Ukraine gained independence. Chersonesos, as an archeological monument, is valuable because one can study the history of Ancient Greece, Rome, and Byzantine there. I was simply stunned by what I saw. After I reported on my excavations in Metaponto, I had talks with the preserve director, Leonid Marchenko, on our cooperation. We conceived a project of joint excavations and publication of the results of our work jointly. We began our first excavation season as early as 1994. Since then, my team and I have been coming to Chersonesos for excavations every year."

"Could you tell us about your international team: in what way did you form it, what kind of people take part, and what keeps them together?"

"Oh, this is a very interesting process. Above all, any expedition will include people Just in love with Chersonesos. These people work in various fields of scholarship. Many of them, after coming here once, can no longer live without Chersonesos and come back every year. Some team members find Chersonesos a suitable place to satisfy their professional interest connected with the subject of their research. But the only idea they are all devoted to is to save Chersonesos for mankind. Ours is a. multi-faceted project, so, apart from archaeologists, the team includes paleobotanists, who study the floral remnants of those times, and paleontologists, who deal with the ancient fauna. Also working with us are architects and builders who study the structures of those times, experts who look into how the landscape has changed from that period to our own day, scientists interested in everything connected with the mentality, way of life, social behavior, etc., of ancient peoples. Ours is a truly international team. This season it included researchers from Ukraine and Russia, Britain and the US, Australia and Italy."

"If it's no secret, where do you get the money for your international project?"

"This is a very important point, and I would like our readers to know how we raise funds for joint projects like this. In the US there is a large number of private non-profit foundations, which accumulate American donations to be further utilized in projects in many walk of life. Some foundations spend money, say, on combating cancer, others on supporting and promoting culture. Some universities are fully dependent on money from such nonprofit foundations.

"All we have to bear in mind is that all these foundations and organizations have no right to derive profit from the projects they finance. Contributions to nonprofit organizations are tax exempt, as are the funds accumulated by the foundations, but all these funds must be earmarked for the development of projects. For example, if your profit is $10,000, out of which you contribute $3000 to the foundation, taxes will be levied only on the balance of $7000. This is the best possible way to encourage people to place money, at their wish, in the foundation that interests them, thus investing money in the development of the scientific, scholarly, or cultural field they are interested in. My principal job in our international project is to seek sources of funding, and, fortunately, there still are foundations interested in supporting and developing culture, including archeology."

"What can you say about the results of your team's work in Chersonesos?"

"Since 1994, apart from excavations, we have been studying jointly one of the most valuable exhibits of the Kherson Museum, tombstones with texts stilt to be translated. The preserve has been supplied with computers, and its the remnants of its urban settlement have been undergoing conservation since 1996. From this year on, preserve employees will have the opportunity to regularly visit the US and Italy to take part in international conferences. The preserve has also had electronic communications installed. This year we have begun to create an Internet site from which we could tell the whole world about its unique museum collection and the research being done by the preserve's associates. We plan to procure an independent source of electrical energy (generator) as part of the museum's basic infrastructure, to upgrade the depositories and exhibits, and to set up the respective research laboratories."

"What is your vision of Chersonesos's future?"

"This year we have offered the government of Ukraine a long-term project to set up a world-class archeological park on the territory of the Chersonesos Preserve, having enlisted the early support of a number of US private nonprofit foundations. Our project has received promises of a ten-year support, which involves considerable financial resources. Please don't misunderstand me, but I will add that my mother, now over eighty, and brother each annually donate several thousand dollars for archeological excavations in Chersonesos. We also hope to obtain money from a number of international agencies to implement such large-scale projects as stopping coastal erosion and creating -an "infrastructure for international tourism. "I have met Vice Premier Mykola Zhulynsky and Minister of Culture Bohdan Stupka. Both showed interest in and understanding of our project. In July this year, Mr. Borysov, acting chairman of the Sevastopol city administration, and I signed a protocol of intent on cooperation in creating an archeological park in the preserve."

"Are there any problems hindering the implementation of your project?"

"The preserve faces two serious and most urgent problems. One is the necessity for the Ministry of Culture to improve funding to meet the preserve's basic needs, such as the protection and assessment of the state-owned property. The other, which I think could trigger a mixed reaction, is to block attempts of the Orthodox Church to seize and appropriate the National Preserve's structures and territory, but I believe this is the subject of a special conversation."

"Do you think you are an optimist?"

"So far, yes."

By Leonid TELENKOV, The Day, Sevastopol - Kyiv