Since 1992, Mark Brisbane, Professor of Medieval Archaeology at the School of Conservation Sciences, has been co-ordinating an international collaboration into historic medieval towns of NW Russia.
Most of the work takes place in and around Novgorod, a famous medieval town that was supposedly founded in the mid- 9th century, according to the Primary Russian Chronicle.
This work has involved many colleagues from Britain (BU, British Museum, UCL), Sweden (University of Lund), Denmark (National Museum of Denmark), Ireland (University College Cork), Germany (University of Kiel), and, of course, Russia (Moscow State University, The Institute of Archaeology of Moscow, The Institute for the Study of the History of Material Culture of St Petersburg, Novgorod State Museum and the Novgorod Archaeological Research Centre).
Co-ordinated by Bournemouth University, the work has been mainly funded by INTAS, the International Association for the Promotion of Scientific Collaboration between the EU and former Soviet Union countries.
Three distinct projects have been supported:
Craft Production, Environment and Landscape: An Archaeological Study of Centre/Periphery Relationships based on the evidence of the exploitation and processing of natural resources in medieval Novgorod and its region
Novgorod was one of the most important towns of medieval Russia and has wonderfully well-preserved archaeological deposits, in places over 7 meters deep, dating back to the mid-10th century. Due to the anaerobic conditions of the waterlogged site, both organic and inorganic finds are incredibly well preserved. This includes numerous finds of leather, birch bark, wood, textile, plant remains and so on as well as iron, bronze, and other metals, although like the organic material, these start to deteriorate when they are removed from the soil.
Russian archaeologists have been excavating at Novgorod since 1932 – every summer except during WWII. The results are internationally known, as they have revealed exceptional evidence not just of artefacts and their production but also the timber buildings, property boundaries, streets and defences of the town. Combined with the evidence for long-distance trade (Novgorod was an important member of the Hanseatic trading community), the town offers enormous potential for research projects of all shapes and sizes.
The first project started as a study of the animal/fish bones and plant remains of the town, comparing assemblages from the medieval town with those found on sites excavated within its hinterland. It also involved the training of Russian archaeologists in the practices of archaeo-zoologists and palaeo-botantists and then went on to help develop the dendrochronology lab at the Novgorod Archaeological Research Centre.
The second project extended our collaboration into the study of the local and imported ceramics and the use of wood for objects, buildings and fuel being undertaken by a variety of specialists from British, Irish, and Swedish universities and museums. The National Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen joined the team as we extended our collaboration to include comparisons of dendrochronological curves based on pine and spruce for Scandinavia, the East Baltic and now NW Russia.
The third project built upon the environmental and artefact-based studies to examine various aspects to do with craft production and the exploitation of natural resources in the territory of Novgorod. Fieldwork on these projects took place from 1992 to 2003. The writing-up phase of this work is due for completion by the end of 2007.
In addition to three lengthy reports for INTAS, the results of this work have been the subject of numerous papers and articles in various journals and other publications, as well as presentations at international conferences, including one published by the British Museum. Papers have been mostly published in English, but also Russian and German.
The main publication outcome is a series of four, refereed volumes:
The Pottery from medieval Novgorod and its Region (2006)
Wood Use in medieval Novgorod (2007)
Animals and Archaeology in Northern Medieval Russia (2008)
The Archaeology of Medieval Novgorod in its wider context (2008)
For further information on the Novgorod Projects, visit the following:
The Palaeo-environment of medieval Novgorod and its Hinterland (INTAS-93-463)
A Chronological Framework for early medieval Towns in NW Russia: the evidence from ceramics and dendrochronology (INTAS-96-099)
Craft Production, Environment and Landscape: An archaeological study of centre/periphery relationships based on the evidence of the exploitation and processing of natural resources in medieval Novgorod and its region (INTAS-00-154)