Archaeological reports on Pskov Cemetery Excavations

Daniel Waugh's picture

Drevnerusskii nekropol’ Pskova X-nachala XI veka. V 2-kh t. T. 1. Rannegorodskoi nekropol’ drevnego Pskova po materialam raskopov na territorii Srednego goroda. T. 2. Kamernye pogrebeniia Pskova po materialam arkheologicheskikh raskopov 2003-2009 gg. u Starovoznesenskogo monastyria. Sankt-Peterburg: Nestor-Istoriia, 2012-2016. 500, 624 pp. ISBN978-5-4469-0369-6, 978-5-4469-0826-4.

I suppose there may be no point in posting about publications where the first volume appeared several years back and those who would wish to know about it probably have made its acquaintance long ago. However, the potentially more interesting of these volumes is the large and more recent second one. If my aging memory serves, neither seems to have been mentioned on the pages of H-EarlySlavic, not, I would think, for lack of merit. Nor, if a quick Internet search is any indication, have there been reviews in the journals many of us might regularly consult. So perhaps there is good reason to offer a few comments on what I consider to be a valuable contribution to our knowledge of quite early Rus’.

The burials in question were discovered not long ago and then underwent proper archaeological excavation using the best modern methods, as reported in these abundantly illustrated, large-format volumes.  We get here the usual diagrams, a lot of detailed photos, catalogs of the inventories, and essays placing the finds in the broader context of what is known from the relatively few urban cemetery sites of early Rus’ in other locations. A lot of this is the usual kind of technical documentation that has to accompany any proper publication of archaeological work; it is impressive that the publication in this instance came relatively quickly after the excavations had been completed.

The thematic essays in Vol. 2 (following on a grave-by-grave description) are the ones most likely to interest readers who have a broadly defined curiosity about the history and culture of early Rus’, for here we can find analyses with substantial comparative material about: 1) textile finds (importantly, quite a few fragments of arguably Byzantine silk); 2) costume; 3) beads (for which there is chemical analysis of their composition, indicating likely provenance; there are comparisons with ones excavated at Birka in Sweden); 4) metalwork (with technical analysis suggesting most of the silver came from Islamic dirhams even if then melted down and alloyed for the production of other objects); 4) trade (focusing on the finds of scale parts and weights); and several others. Readers who were intrigued several years ago by an article Roman Kovalev published [in Russian History 39 [2012]) in connection with the Pskov discovery of a pendant with a Riurikind monogram and a bird and cross image on it will find the longish essay here analyzing the pendant and introducing details of Christian imitations of Arab dirhams (provided by the eminent Swedish numismatist Gerd Rispling) to be of considerable interest.

As with so many graves, the ones here were looted, presumably long ago, but a surprising amount of interesting evidence remained in them (in one case, including some substantial pieces of wax candles; also, a few Samanid dirhams from Central Asia). Even though the photos of some of the darker objects don’t come across as well as one might like in these books, for the most part the abundant visual material and careful texts, tabulations, statistics, etc. will be an invaluable resource. Most of the sections have short summaries in English, and pages cataloging artifacts also include captions in English.