Archaeological Studies of Bolgar

In the space of the global civilisation there are several main regions in which the constant and diverse interaction of peoples and cultures took place. The Volga Region is, undoubtedly, one of such regions. It is here where the pages of different peoples, like invaluable pearls, are beaded on the thread of the centuries-old historical and cultural interaction. The study of the Volga Region is a global historical, cultural, and civilisational issue that embraces a broad range of sciences and independent trends in scientific research. Nowadays, when the influence of the destructive factors that break the unity of the world is still strong, it is extremely important to seek and find the ways to unit it. We see in this the most important sense and a deep implication. The great interest in history and culture of our region and peoples that inhabited it in the past is quite natural. The history of the Volga Region was saturated with dramatic collisions and turns, which is explained, first of all, by the fact that from the time immemorial it was a knot of the contact zones and crossings of civilisations. This “melting pot” gave birth to numerous cultures and great states of the past, which made a huge contribution to the development of the Eurasian civilisation and are its integral part. That is why the study of historical processes, and of the Middle Ages in particular, can cast light on the sources of the present-day problematic situations. An integrated study of the history of the Volga Region is obviously of great research and practical importance and, naturally, contributes to the closer coordination of efforts of the researchers of different fields of specialisation from many cities of Russia and the world. Today, the coordinated work of the Academy of Sciences of Tatarstan and the Russian Academy of Sciences, their institutes and divisions, of the newly established Kazan Federal University, and with support from governmental authorities, ensured the conducting of the integrated research. No wonder that the preserved ruins, which witnessed the real events of the centuries-old past, have long attracted attention of travellers, naturalists, artists, collectors or just treasure-hunters, the latter have even established a craft industry engaged in extraction and sales of antiques, dismantling of the masonwork of the preserved buildings, thus contributing to their rapid destruction and complete loss. The first detailed description of the Bolgar site and its monuments dates back to 1712, when scribe Mikhailov made a list in connection with the establishment here of the men’s Assumption Monastery. Ten years after that, when travelling along the Volga, Tsar Peter I visited the site. Having seen the ruins, he ordered to take measures to preserve the stone structures. The systematic studies of the site that were started 75 years ago, in 1938, under the guidance of A.P. Smirnov made it possible to obtain rich and diverse material on many issues of history and culture of the town of Bolgar at different periods of its life, including such related to historical and social topography, pace of development of its area, construction, crafts, trade, improvement, etc.

From 2010, which is connected with the establishment, on the initiative of M.S. Shaimiev, the First President of the Republic of Tatarstan, of the Republic’s Foundation for Revival of the Monuments of History and Culture intended to contribute to the development of the Bolgar museum-reserve, the museum of the island-tTown of Sviyazhsk, and other monuments of history and culture located in the territory of Tatarstan, the large-scale work has been done to implement these tasks. Within the framework of implementing the programme, the excavations of the Bolgar site were carried out in 2010 - 2011. The research was aimed at studying the destructible cultural layer in places where the work for museification and improvement of the territory of the monuments is being done. The archaeological studies were carried out by the National Centre for Archaeological Research under the guidance of the Institute for History named after S. Marjani of the Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Tatarstan with attraction of specialists of Kazan (Volga Region) Federal University, the Institute for Archaeology of the Russian Academy of Sciences and other educational institutions. Great support to the specialists was rendered by the students and school children of Tatarstan and the neighbouring regions.

The vast archaeological excavations of the monument produced an interesting material related to the history of their formation and the development of the mediaeval material culture of Eastern Europe. The studies were carried out with the broad use of the modern methods of research. The new results were obtained with the use of non-destructive geophysical and remote aerospace methods that helped localise many monumental stone buildings hidden by thick cultural layer. The new page for study was opened by research conducted in respect of the items of material culture with the use of a complex of methods used by natural sciences and aimed at the reconstruction of the paleoecology, of the technological peculiarities of production of mediaeval products, as well as the study of the anthropogenetics of the population of the mediaeval Bolgar. The materials obtained in 2010 - 2011 made it possible to learn many new things about what long seemed to be well known facts of history and culture of Bolgar, as well as to change the long-standing views of the development and planigraphy of a mediaeval town. It became possible owing to the large-scale, in terms of the area, archaeological study in the territory of the monument. The total volume of the study was some 20 000 sq. m. of excavations in the territory of the site. All in all nearly 150 specialists and laboratory workers took part in these excavations. Some 800 people from many organisations of the republic and other regions took part as workers in the opening up of the cultural layerings. The last three years of archaeological studies have brought the unique information on the mediaeval history of the town of Bolgar.

Found in the territory of the site in the course of excavations were the whole districts of dwelling structures in the central part of the site with the remains of mansion houses. The building of the Khan’s Palace is one of the large facilities that became the object of excavations carried out over these years. The other large monumental building studied in the centre of the site includes the remains of the stone baths nearby the river boat station. Apart from the excavations carried out in the central part, the excavations were also carried out in other locations of the huge site. The excavations in the Small Town located on the southern edge of the site revealed the remains of a white-stone building of the mid-14th century.

Close to the southern gate of Bolgar there have been revealed the remains of the foundation of a large stone mausoleum of the 14th century. A special research was conducted at the burials of the mediaeval necropolises of the monument that gave an interesting material related to sepulchral traditions of that time. The systematic work helped open up the remains of potter’s furnaces that were found in the area of Lake Galankino. The structures found in the course of the research became an object of the systematic study and restoration work. To preserve the revealed facilities, not only the conservation of the revealed structures was carried out, but also the protective structures were designed and installed over these facilities ensuring not only the preservation of the ancient structures, but also forming the new historical and cultural environment of the monument for visits of tourists. The results of the integrated study will become the basis for the creation of a new level of historical knowledge and for increasing the importance of archaeological science in general. Considering the long-term prospects and the potential of historical areas, first of all of Bolgar, the proper conditions are being created for further work of archaeologists. The construction of a special archaeological complex has been finished in Bolgar. It will be a scientific base that will meet all modern requirements and will become a large centre of international research collaboration.

Last updated: Apr, 09, 2013, 15:12
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