Posted: 05.09.2023 16:31:00

In the footsteps of jewellers

Sensational finding in Polotsk: archaeologists have discovered an ancient production for the processing of non-ferrous metals

Excavations are in full swing at the city stadium of Polotsk: dozens of archaeologists, volunteers and people who are simply not indifferent to the history of their native city are working. What is the reason for the excitement? Our journalists took part in a loud discovery of an archaeological expedition.

Artefacts in the stadium

“Here it is!” the morning silence at the sports stadium, which in Polotsk is habitually called Spartak, is broken by a joyful cry. Aleksei Zhuridov, a student of the College of Chemical Technology, proudly shows another find — a bright turquoise-blue bead. It has an unusual shape, and it seems there is an eye in the centre... A well-known archaeologist in the country and abroad, senior lecturer in the Department of History and Tourism of Polotsk State University Aleksei Kots smiles: the guy is lucky!
“Please note: we have just begun excavations, and our assistant is back with a find. By the way, this is his ninth bead. Such decorations were called eyed. In ancient times, the kids ran and collected them after the rain in the fields or near the river bank. There, the water washed the beads out of the ground, they were easy to see,” the scientist is surprised.

Igor Magalinsky, Candidate of Historical Sciences, Associate Professor of the Department of Social Communications of PSU, approaches us. In the hands —  a whole scattering of small ceramic fragments: “We got lucky after the rain. At the site of yesterday’s excavations, fragments of crucibles (vessels for melting non-ferrous metals) appeared again. In just a few days, we found more than 700 such artifacts. And in-oh-he is there, a little closer to the administrative building, they found a melting gold of the highest standard,” Igor Vladimirovich adds.
It is already obvious: the territory of the stadium, and possibly its considerable surroundings, is an ancient production complex for the processing of non-ferrous metals. Its heyday is the 11th century. But, perhaps, there will be artefacts that will confirm the earlier start of activity. 

After all, traces of jewelry craftsmanship are at every step, you just have to go a little deeper into the cultural layer. And these are not only fragments of jewelry and crucibles, but also the remains of real melting furnaces found along the perimeter of the sports field.

Famous quarter

Scientists are unanimous in their opinion: this discovery is the most important event of the year in the ancient land of Polotsk, which still holds many secrets. How did it all start? The Deputy Director of the city stadium Nadezhda Kozlova shares the story, “Two years ago, the modernisation of the sports facility was planned. Sure, we knew that unusual finds happen at the stadium from time to time. And in 1984, a real treasure was discovered here — gold items. So, before the start of earthworks, archaeologists came here ahead of the builders... Now we have to make changes to the project, but it’s worth it. The townspeople are watching the work with interest — see how many volunteers gather here with shovels in their hands.”
Indeed, volunteers work perfectly under the guidance of scientists. They mentally dream of finding a big treasure and inscribe their name in the history of ancient Polotsk. Well, it’s quite real. The organisers of the excavations are surprising: the legendary historian and archaeologist Georgy Shtykhov already discovered traces of jewellery production a few hundred metres from here, back in 1979-1980. And in the late 1980s, in the immediate vicinity of the site of today’s excavations, archaeologist Sergei Tarasov stumbled upon the remains of a jewellery workshop. But it was believed that these were small compact sites. Who knew that we would have to return to this topic and, perhaps, reconsider the importance and scope of the previous find...
Igor Magalinsky says, “Now we call this place the jewellery quarter. All artefacts are examined on a mobile X-ray fluorescence spectrometer. Funds for the purchase of unique equipment for the student archaeological team were allocated from the Presidential Fund for the Support of Talented Youth. The spectrometer allows real-time determination of the chemical composition of metals. The results of the current study: lead brass (an alloy of copper, zinc and lead) was melted in crucibles. And the piece of melted gold with an alloy of 952. Think pure gold! 
It is clear that the metals are imported, they were delivered for processing from the countries of Central Europe and Scandinavia. Perhaps by water along the Route from the Varangians to the Greeks — the bed of the Polota River is near this place...”

History of the golden treasure

By the way, the treasure found in 1984 at the stadium is the 958th assay of gold close in composition to the current find. Six items of intricate shape at once, as well as golden wire twisted into bundles. How was the treasure discovered?

 “During a community work day at the stadium, cleaner Maria Krasnova found incomprehensible metal things in a pile of garbage. She began jokingly handing out pieces of wire to people working nearby: here you are, they say, a treasure! She didn’t even suspect the value of what she found…” the chief curator of the museum funds of the National Polotsk Historical and Cultural Museum-Reserve Inna Pesina demonstrates the relic. 
The jokes were over as soon as the ‘garbage’ caught the eye of the stadium director, a knowledgeable person. He collected the gift and rushed to the jewellery workshop. It turned out to be 337 grams of the purest gold! These items date back to about the 10th-11th centuries.
Well, we will follow the progress of the excavations, the unpredictable treasury-earth will definitely surprise us. We look forward to new discoveries. Furthermore, we will learn about everything soon — archaeologists are ordered to explore the future construction site until the end of October.

By Yelena Begunova

Photos by Anton Stepanischev