From Monumental War to the Monuments of War – Archaeology of the Great War in the Republic of Macedonia

Couple of weeks ago I went on a field trip to Mariovo region (Novaci municipality) for searching the remains of the First World War in the Republic of Macedonia. Field activities were based on surface prospecting of the Macedonian front remains during the Great War. The visit included the 1050 elevation, the upstream of the Black River (Crna River today or ancient Erigon), the villages Skochivir and Slivnica where the hospitals were settled during the WW1 and the field near the village of Bach which was used by the Air Forces. Immense photo and video documentation for some future research was made.

Oh, no, I am not a historian, nor will ever be engaged in modern history, since I am a prehistoric archaeologist and I love working with stone tools. But I am a director of HAEMUS, which is a very big center for scientific research and promotion of the culture based in Skopje and I manage many projects on different heritage topics, including this one about the WW1.


Regarding the Great War, I could surely say that Republic of Macedonia is definitely an open-air museum. “Eastern Front”, known under many names in historical records but mostly as “Macedonian front”, has great importance for the history of Macedonia and the Balkans. I’ve had to pass through hard battles in the last three years in order to promote the archaeology from the First World War in the Republic of Macedonia. As an organization we’ve ran few projects, public debates and we organized very big conference on topic ”First World War in the collective memory – Exchange of experiences in the Balkans”. Still it wasn’t enough. I was devastated to show to everybody that on the modern territory of the Republic of Macedonia took place some of the biggest battles that killed thousands of soldiers of many nationalities and religions, which today are buried on more conceptual organized necropolises/cemeteries. The architectonic remains in places where battles took place, includes parts of the destroyed complexes of bunkers, positions, machine gun nests and trenches that can be seen today. They comprise the physical remains of significant points in European and world history in order to explain the reasons that led to the creation of ‘Modern Europe’. On the entire front line length of about 450 km there are thousands and thousands of artifacts and monuments everywhere, waiting to be explored, excavated, identified, cleaned, preserved and displayed in the museum, to tell the piece of the unknown European history.

WW1_Macedonia_conference_2015_promo WW1_Macedonia_conference_2015_poster

Archaeology of the First World War in the Republic of Macedonia so far has been completely unknown for both, the public and experts. But we won’t give up so easily from this topic. We are trying to contribute to the creation of some domestic archives of materials, as well as the exchanging of international experiences. Building human capacities who would participate in the dialogue for peace and reconciliation in the Balkan countries through scientific research and understanding of the past of this period, is also one of the aims of our work. We would like to express our gratitude to the of Embassy of France in Skopje, the French Institute in Skopje, cooperation Normandie/Macédoine, many municipalities, the citizen associations and all those scientists who actively helped us with own research or as logistics. And we are very happy bringing on daylight a topic less known but very challenging for many colleagues.

Vasilka Dimitrovska
Director of HAEMUS
Center for scientific research
and promotion of culture

For more info check: ww1conference2015.com

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This article was written as part of the action for ‘Day of Archaeologists’ (August 04, 2016). The goal is to raise public awareness of cultural heritage and the responsibility that archaeologists have about it.

Archeologia e ceramiche: non solo storie dalla terra ma anche storie “di terra”


Ceramica ingobbiata e graffita prodotta a Pisa nel XVI secolo (Cinquecento) con al centro un decoro con viso femminile e capelli raccolti in una rete.

Il lavoro di un’archeologa può essere vario e complesso e chi come me è anche specializzata nello studio delle ceramiche del passato (che di terra sono fatte!) si troverà spesso a pover riscoprire e


Le ceramiche appena ritrovate vengono lavate con acqua e spazzolino.

ricostruire le storie racchiuse nella terra o di terra composte.

Ecco, questo è il mio mestiere, raccontare le storie delle ceramiche e di coloro che le avevano create e utilizzare, capire le persone e le società del passato, i cambiamenti delle mode e delle tecnologie, i modi di produrre gli oggetti e quelli di utilizzarli o, una volta rotti, gettarli via.

Come ogni giorno, quindi, anche questo Day of Archaeology 2016 (svolto in un cantiere in corso di scavo nel centro storico di Pisa) si è composto di vari passaggi preliminari agli studi più approfonditi e alle ricostruzioni: gesti semplici che,


Si osservano le ceramiche in ogni particolare con l’aiuto di lentini d’ingrandimento: in laboratorio l’osservazione potrà essere fatta con microscopi ad ingrandimenti molto più alti.

partendo dalla scoperta delle ceramiche, permettessero di riconoscerle e comprenderne il potenziale informativo.

E allora la ceramica è stata lavata con un po’ di acqua fresca e uno spazzolino, e poi pazientemente fatta asciugare. Successivamente i diversi tipi di ceramiche sono stati divisi e contati, cercando di capire se le forme potranno essere ricostruite, e iniziando a descriverne i decori, le forme, le cronologie. Queste ultime saranno utili ai colleghi che scavano per datare gli strati e capire le epoche di ciò che si trova durante lo scavo (muri, pavimenti, ambienti ecc…).

Ogni ceramica viene fotografata, in modo che resti un

al lavoro

Si conteggiano i frammenti, si riconoscono le ceramiche e si trascrivono sui database informatici le informazioni ricavate.

archivio fotografico digitale di tutto, e poi imbustata con la sigla dello strato di provenienza e conservata in magazzini ordinati di cui viene stilato un elenco, per sapere sempre dove poterla ritrovare.

Si usano database elettronici per conservare le informazioni e osservazioni fatte sul cantiere, che potranno essere affinate con studi successivi con restauri delle forme e analisi di laboratorio e, una volta rielaborate per le mostre e/o le pubblicazioni, permetteranno non solo di conoscere il momento in cui, ad esempio, una casa fu creata o distrutta, ma ci porteranno a comprendere la vita nel medioevo


Le ceramiche vengono fotografate e archiviate.


Le ceramiche sanno raccontare storie bellissime, se solo si ha l’amore e la pazienza di ascoltarle!

Marcella Giorgio

Archeologa professionista, specializzata nello studio della ceramica medievale e postmedievale



Seguite le “Storie (di) ceramiche” anche su Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/storiediceramiche/


‘Vesuvius, fare well until my return.’ A Non-Invasive Archaeological Research Project on the Shops of Roman Pompeii.

Via delle Scuole, Pompeii looking towards Mt Vesuvius. Copyright Sera Baker.

Via delle Scuole streetscape in Region 8, Pompeii looking towards Mt Vesuvius. Copyright Sera Baker, 2016.

Vesuvius and I have a little one-to-one chat each time I visit Pompeii in southern Italy. It’s the first thing and the last thing I do on every fieldwork and research visit. Without Vesuvius I couldn’t be the archaeologist and researcher that I am. 

As a Roman archaeologist specialising in socio-cultural and economic examinations of ancient Pompeii and the early Roman Empire I have visited the ancient city countless times in the past 15 years. I feel like I know the city like the back of my hand: entering at the Porta Marina gate, sharing greetings with the Pompeii superintendency staff and custodians who I haven’t seen in a number of months or years, climbing the steep Via Marina road leading into the city that widens into the city as you arrive at the forum. Turn left and it’s the backdrop to the Capitoline Triad temple remains: Mt Vesuvius, the volcano that catastrophically destroyed and preserved the Roman city, a small town that wasn’t of particular great importance in the Roman Empire. The violent eruption of AD 79 had a myriad of consequences, covering the city in several metres of ash and pumice after a 24 hour long bombardment and killing those who had not escaped the city and burying the contents of their homes, businesses, religious sites and theatres entirely.

Nearly two thousand years later the city was ‘rediscovered’ (although it had never properly been lost) under the Bourbon rulers of Naples in 1748. Ten years earlier the ancient city of Herculaneum had been found and the fever of antiquarianism was rising. Excavation revealed surprisingly familiar aspects of an ancient civilisation: statuary, belongings, homes, and so on. Despite early use of backfilling, a practice in which materials excavated, such as soil, are returned to the opened areas, Pompeii eventually became the open air museum that we understand it as today. But don’t be fooled. This isn’t a city frozen in time. Since Day 1 of its burial the site has been subject to a slow, natural decomposition in addition to destruction carried out by humans, both in antiquity and from 1748 onwards.

My research, mostly carried out as part of a PhD degree, focuses upon the lesser studied shops and workshops, also known as tabernae, which fronted many of the homes along major arteries in the city. These small structures are important because they tell us about what everyday life was like for non-elite Romans, slaves and freedmen (ex-slaves) in terms of where they worked, their trades and crafts, their eating and drinking habits, and, in a few cases, where they may have lived. An insight into Roman shops at Pompeii provides an understanding of population, society, culture, urban planning, trade, and commerce. It also tells us quite a lot about the impact of war and Roman colonisation, slavery, migration, patronage, art, neighbourhood development and industrialisation across the city.


A bakery retrofitted into a two storey house (8.4.27), left, and a shop for bread (8.4.26), right. Another shop (8.4.25), far right. Copyright Sera Baker, 2016.

A bakery retrofitted into a two storey house (8.4.27), left, and a shop for bread (8.4.26), right. Another shop (8.4.25), far right. Copyright Sera Baker, 2016.

In light of city’s size, I have chosen to work in a quarter known today as Region 8, just south of the forum and Via dell’Abbondanza, close to the two theatres of the Entertainment District, and bordered by the city wall and the Porta Marina and Porta Stabia gates. Most tourists to the city will walk by my shops without noticing their presence or their importance to the city, although they might notice the shops with counters looking like taverns. The majority of the 93 shops in this area are small structures under four rooms in total. Some are directly connected to the elite houses (popularly known as villas, but correctly identified as domus) that were owned by families of local political importance who also maintained commercial interests, which is in contrast to incorrect 19th & 20th century views that Roman elites avoided direct trade and monetary dealings.

One particular aspect of shops is a favourite of mine: the architecture. Quite a lot of my time is spent at my desk in England analysing field research carried out site and the architecture is often the most revealing because 18th & 19th century excavation records rarely include recordings of finds from the shops despite being rich sources of materials and decorated buildings in their own right. Archaeologists often refer to this type of analysis as non-invasive research’ because it doesn’t require further excavation and damage to ancient structures and landscapes. Pompeii is an excellent site to carry out this type of approach because the wealth of material and speed of early excavations means that much remains to be interpreted from exposed buildings and their contents. It is quite a lot like putting a massive puzzle back together when you don’t have an entire understanding of what that puzzle is meant to be.

To keep track of the extensive number of photographs, plans, archival records and my own analysis findings I developed a digital database (along with some generous assistance from Derek Littlewood, @eggboxderek). I love reading the walls for the information that they provide, with or without their finished decoration, revealing building phases and additions, and most importantly telling archaeologists about reconstruction following the seismic activity, including earthquakes, leading up to the fatal eruption in AD 79. Even details such as the simple thresholds set within shop doorways are thrilling: I can understand how and when these doorways and their doors operated, learn about Roman carpentry and locks and take part in scholarly debates around differences between mezzanines and upper floors and why their different terminology and definitions affect their use.


Database, Tabernae of Roman Pompeii. A working example. Copyright Sera Baker, 2016. No use without permission.

Database record for 8.4.27, The tabernae of Roman Pompeii: shops & workshops of Region VIII. A working example. Copyright Sera Baker, 2016. No use without permission.

And while my PhD research isn’t a group project, I depend on the regular exchanges of ideas and discussion of new developments at Pompeii with a number of other researchers. Some of the especially important individuals, projects, and publications, that have impacted my area of research in the recent past include Dr Joanne Berry, Drs Steven Ellis and Eric Poehler of the Pompeii Archaeological Research Project: Porta Stabia, Dr Sophie Hay (@pompei79), and many, many others.

Sera Baker is currently completing a PhD at The University of Nottingham, UK. She enjoys discussing Roman archaeology on her Twitter feed, @seraecbaker. To learn more about Pompeii take a look at the official archaeological website from the Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Pompei, Ercolano e Stabia (English & Italian; for most complete information use the Italian site).

135 Years in the Life of Ontario Archaeology

There is a long history of digging the past. Farmers who have made accidental finds whilst plowing their fields, builders cutting through historical remains as they dig foundations, cellars, privies or basements. There are private collectors and looters who seek out sites to dig. At the same time, many First Nations communities protested this looting and robbing of sites of heritage and burial. And entangled in these histories of digging, the profession of archaeology developed.

At Sustainable Archaeology, we are dealing with all of these histories of digging, but also innovations in storage, preservation and access to build a better future for collections that were assembled through these various acts of digging. Ontario, like many parts of the world, has been feeling increasing pressure from the ever growing archaeological collections amassed through development, research, and donations from private collectors. It takes a lot of time, money and training to care for these collections, not to mention make them accessible to the public.

Last year we narrated a Day in the Life of An Archaeological Repository, detailing how collections are processed, conserved and accessed in our repository and how research is undertaken in our labs. This year we have decided to be even more ambitious, and narrate 135 years in the life of Ontario Archaeology, to capture how the practice of digging and collecting objects from the past has changed over time and how this impacts facilities like Sustainable Archaeology: McMaster.

Explore our Timeline: 135 Years in the Life of Ontario Archaeology below:

For more information on the history of Ontario Archaeology, visit our blog and follow our progress at Sustainable Archaeology.

You can also follow us on Twitter (SustArchMIP) and on Facebook!


2015 SAMcMaster Logo


Digging Diaries – Old Shipwreck, New Mystery – The Wreck of the London

Hello all, it’s time for a new vid!

Back in 1665 an enormous warship, named The London, exploded in the Thames Estuary. The crew had been preparing a seventeen gun salute before the vessel was due to set sail for the Second Anglo-Dutch War when a stray flame ignited 300 barrels of gunpowder.

A team have been diving this summer to rescue the archaeology and to solve the mystery of ‘The Wreck of the London’.

Subscribe to our channel and follow us on Twitter (@DiggingDiaries) to keep up to date with all  the new exciting digs and dives happening all over Britain this summer.

Under the archway, Through the little blue door, Up the stairwell, To the exhibition floor


Welcome to our Laboratory! No two days are the same on the coin hoard project, it’s all part of the fun; but here’s what we got up too on our day of archaeology.

Wednesday mornings always start the same, with an 8.30 meeting between the conservation team, our curator of archaeology, our museum’s registrar and our director of archives discussing the previous weeks work and any upcoming plans for the coin hoard.

Some of the team deep in discussion about the project

Some of the team deep in discussion about the project

Usually after these meetings Georgia and I will head back to the lab to start the day’s coin removal process. We’re using a Faro metrology arm to record each coins position on the hoard mass to produce a 3D map that can eventually be linked to our database. It’s hoped this can help research in the future. It also produces laser scans that can have photographs superimposed and could even be 3D printed. It’s quite exciting stuff and we always look forward to seeing how many coins we’ll be able to remove that day.

However, this particular Wednesday we were scanner-less! Not to panic, it’s gone on a little holiday to Germany for its yearly service and should be back with us soon.

Our sad little scannerless tripod

Our sad little scannerless tripod

This Wednesday was also slightly different from normal as we had a 9 am visit from the South Korean Ambassador. We offer these tours a lot now as the coin hoard project has become on of the things that visiting dignitaries to the island likes to see. It’s a chance for them to come behind the glass and enter the laboratory to see behind the scenes all of the work that is being undertaken to conserve the hoard.

The rest of the day was spent with conservation technicians and volunteers working on finished coins. This involves an array of tasks including; using a vibrating tip tool to remove excess corrosion,  dry brushing the coins to remove any dust, writing up their final bags with object number and grid reference, inputting onto the database and photography.

Conservation Technician Georgia and one of our volunteers putting the coins on the database and writing their final bags

Conservation Technician Georgia and one of our volunteers putting the coins on the database and writing their final bags

Additionally, our museum registrar, Val, and I are working on putting together some award applications for the coin hoard project and the afternoon was spent editing these for final approval. There were cookies at the end as a reward for getting through the four page document, and as you can see from the picture below the team is a big fan of brightly coloured infographics! 

Registrar Val admiring the infographic

Registrar Val admiring the infographic

Our Museum Conservator also had an interesting day, he was visiting the museum of our neighbouring island of Guernsey and consulting with them about some material they have loaned from France.

There you have it! That pretty much concludes the Coin Crew’s day in archaeology! Who knows what tomorrow may bring. I’ll leave you with this picture of the conservation team in happier coin removal times!


Have a great Day of Archaeology Folks!

Viki Le Quelenec

Why become an Archaeologist?

You’re at a posh frock gathering. Polite social ‘chit-chat’ is going on around you. Before long you know that someone’s going to ask you what you do for a living.

Is it time to fib and give a glib “nothing much, I’m an office worker” as your reply or is it time to take a deep breath before truthfully answering “I’m an Archaeologist”… (or in my case, a “lapsed archaeologist”!)

Your honest response may well be greeted with a slightly disappointed “oh…” followed by an awkward silence so painfully long and drawn out that you feel compelled (even as the wronged party) to do the correct British thing and start talking about the perfectly dreadful weather we’re having or some sporting fixture England have recently been defeated in, before politely parting ways and avoiding eye contact for the rest of the evening.

The comedians will respond with bog-standard Indiana Jones jokes. Accordingly my bog-standard answers are: “No, I don’t have a whip”, “even if I had, I won’t whip you with it” and “no, I don’t have the hat either”. Time for another hasty exit, using vines to jump over collapsing floors, outrunning massive rolling stone balls and agilely avoiding spiked dungeons.

Sometimes you’ll get “Wow, excellent! Have you designed any local buildings?”  At this point my glass is suddenly empty, or I start waving manically at a bemused stranger in the distance before making my excuses and disappearing into the crowd.

Then you get the class of ‘Elderly Explorers’. With these lovely people any conversation you start is drowned out by long winded tales of their exploits in whatever war, desert, wilderness, mountain, rainforest or hell hole they were last in, as they insist on telling you in varying degrees of graphic detail, everything to do with a most memorable trek they took part in back in some dim distant era before giving you their politically incorrect opinion about some remote region of western South America you’ve never heard of.

They do this without letting you get a word in edgeways and you wonder, as your neck starts to cramp from all the polite nodding you’re doing, how they manage to breathe, as their well-meaning but very tedious diatribe drones on and on.

You have to give others credit for even trying to continue the conversation. Some ask how much money you’ve made from the gold coins you’ve found with your metal detector and whether eBay is a good place to buy ‘genuine old stuff’. They also tend to ask whether you have your detector in the boot of your car and whether they could have a go with it as they want to throw their handful of coins in the undergrowth to see if they can find them again.

Erm, no, no, no and no.

Others ask the well meaning “what’s the most exciting thing you’ve ever dug up” question; a harmless enquiry to delight all archaeologists! They then expect you to dutifully come up with some incredibly intricate story about the bounty of rare ancient and mystical treasures you’ve located in the midst of some remote desert cave and the plethora of articles you’ve had published.

Those are the ones who look sadly crestfallen when you say, “oh, just a few bits of bone and teeth”…

‘Were they human?’ will always be their interrupting comeback, as you continue describing fragments of gnawed wood, bits of broken pottery, lumps of rusty metal and other bits and pieces thrown away as rubbish by our ancestors. All artefacts of wonder and interest to you, but another kiss of death to conversation!

You long for the day when you meet a kindred spirit – not even another archaeologist – just someone who has an equally strange profession. A profession like a Pathologist or Undertaker, as I’ve been told that they have similar conversation stopping moments! Perhaps it could be a chance encounter with someone who knows that the likelihood of excavating something truly astonishing is actually quite rare and nods with interest at what you have to say.

Yes, I’ve found the normal bits and pieces you would expect to find in generic sites in the UK. Evidence of habitation, bones – human and otherwise – lots of glazed and unglazed pottery and ceramics, worked flint scatters, some coins, lumpy pieces of misshapen metal, tile and general building materials, gnawed wood (no beaver jokes please) and the obligatory catch all for everything else, the very technical category of ‘stuff’.

Yes, I’ve processed finds for days and days, scrubbing away with a toothbrush until my hands are numb from the cold water. Yes, I’ve nearly broken my back pick-axing for hours and lugging endless wheel-barrows of heavy earth. Yes, I’ve been bitten and stung by insects. Yes, I’ve burnt the back of my neck so badly I could hardly bear to move my head. Yes, I’ve slept for weeks in an old, musty, leaky Army tent. Yes, I’ve woken up surrounded by an infestation of literally thousands of earwigs. Yes, I’ve slept in my car when the thunder storms were directly above us. Yes, I’ve slept in a barn when the rain got too much and the site was nearly swept away. Yes, I’ve ‘washed’ with baby-wipes in the absence of anything else. Yes, I’ve been stared and pointed at in Sainsbury’s when I’ve gone directly from site to do the camp shopping trip.

So why be an Archaeologist? Well, why not!?

I’m not an expert in any sense of the word; I haven’t had enough time or experience to become a specialist, but really I enjoy the endless questions relating to the unknown. How did an ancient community survive? What did they make? What did they eat? How did they live? Why did they..? When did they..? Who were they..? For what reason did..? How did they..? What was this..? Where did they go..? How old is it? How does it relate to…?

Layers of deposition, stratigraphy, contexts. Phases and periods of occupation. How did the site form and build up over time? Interpretations, hypothesis, debates, discussions. Endless questions and vivid imaginations… Open minded but yet precise. Determined and flexible.

Sounds like a damn fine career choice to me!

“TrowelPS” by Przemysław Sakrajda – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Archaeologists tossed on the tides of history

The Day of Archaeology this year found me once again working in an archive, far from a dig site — but this time for very different reasons, and with very different questions, than the same day last year. This time, I’m facing the consequences of a geopolitical shift that has left the site where I’ve been working, Chersonesos in Crimea, either in a new country (Russia, in the eyes of most Crimeans and the Russian Federation, and in practical terms) or in occupied territory (in the eyes of Ukraine and the UN). This change happened without violence or destruction in Crimea, and having seen through the eyes of archaeologist friends who work in Syria and Egypt how much worse it could be (see here and here and here, for starters), I’m grateful for that. Chersonesos is also still in good hands, and I’m still working with my collaborators at the National Preserve there on our publication projects. But I have had to come to terms with the reality that it will probably be a very long time before I can go back to the site where I spent most of my summers between 2002 and 2011.

This had naturally led me to think about historical context again: but this time, not archaeology in the historical context of its development as a discipline, but archaeologists in the historical context of recent political history. Most of us are primarily interested in unwrapping the stories of the more distant human past, and it’s tempting to push the modern political context into the background — if not in our daily practice, then at least in our publications. There’s a stark contrast, for example, between the matter-of-fact archaeological publications from Europe of excavations carried out in the 1930s and 1940s and the realities on the ground for archaeologists themselves during that period. In some cases, archaeologists took it on themselves to play an active role in conflicts, as Susan Heuck Allen has recently described in her book Classical Spies, on archaeologists and classicists working with the OSS during WWII in Greece. In other cases, archaeologists were simply at the mercy of the political agendas or military conflicts that took place around them. Some survived and flourished in later, calmer times; some saw their careers disappear; and some disappeared themselves.

For this Day of Archaeology, then, I thought I’d write about archaeology in Crimea at another moment of political tension. I spent the morning of July 11th in the archives of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, looking at correspondence related to the activities of a Russian emigré scholar named Eugene Golomshtok. I was looking at Golomshtok because I’ve been working (much, much too slowly) on a book project with another Russian emigré scholar, Aleksandr Leskov, at the core of which is the publication of material from a joint US-Soviet archaeological expedition to Eski-Kermen that Golomshtok co-directed in the summer of 1933. Dr. Leskov has written up the excavation, materials from which were divided between Penn and St. Petersburg (then Leningrad), and which for various reasons was never published. He has also produced chapters on the early history of the Crimean Scythians and the Taurians, and the project is waiting for me to cover the interactions between these populations and the early Greek colonists in southwest Crimea.

A scene from the joint excavations carried out by Eugene Golomshtok and N. Repnikov at Eski Kermen in the summer of 1933. Image courtesy of the Penn Museum Archives.

A scene from the joint excavations carried out by Eugene Golomshtok and N. Repnikov at Eski Kermen in the summer of 1933. Image courtesy of the Penn Museum Archives.

As I approached this project, though, I started to be curious about the modern context as well. How did this US-Soviet collaboration — which mirrored in some ways the US-Ukrainian collaboration between the Institute of Classical Archaeology and the National Preserve of Tauric Chersonesos — come about? How were those relationships managed at a time of great political tension? And was there any awareness on the part of the US side of the political and historical circumstances under which it took place? 1933, after all, saw not only the run-up to Stalin’s Great Terror, but the final peak of a catastrophic famine — the Holodomor, to Ukrainians — that killed between 2.4 and 7.5 million people in the territory of the Ukrainian SSR. Though it was hard to get reliable news from the Soviet propaganda machine, there had in fact been a very public argument about the presence of a famine in the spring of 1933 between New York Times writer Walter Duranty and Gareth Jones, an aid to David Lloyd George in the UK, who had taken an unauthorized walking tour of the USSR in early 1933 and made a series of statements about the dire nature of the situation to the press.

I had been hoping to find in Golomshtok’s letters in the archives some direct acknowledgement of the famine or of the broader political circumstances surrounding the Crimean expedition in 1933. I didn’t. The closest he ever came to mentioning the famine is the inclusion of a reference to “the food problem” in a letter about the organization of the project. But there’s still a very interesting story here, one that touches on both the history of archaeology in the Soviet Union in the 1930s and the history of the development of prehistoric archaeology — as well as on the rather sad history of Dr. Golomshtok, who emigrated to the US in 1918 at the age of 20, clearly in the wake of the Revolution, and despite a number of publications on both Native American archaeology and the Paleolithic in Southern Russia and Siberia, never managed to find a stable academic position. He was affiliated with the Penn Museum from 1930 to around 1937, but the refusal of the USSR to issue him a visa in 1934 and thereafter clearly made him less of an asset, and the correspondence with the Museum grows increasingly frosty in the late 1930s and early 1940s, especially after the retirement of director Horace Jayne, who had supported him. As far as I can tell, Golomshtok did not publish any more scientific work after the early 40s, and he seems to have died in 1950 at the age of 52.

A view of Cherkez-Kermen from Eski Kermen, looking toward Sevastopol. This could be the picture Repnikov mentioned in his discussion of Golomshtok in his excavation report. Image courtesy of the Penn Museum Archives.

A view of Cherkez-Kermen from Eski Kermen, looking toward Sevastopol. This could be the picture Repnikov mentioned in his discussion of Golomshtok in his excavation report. Image courtesy of the Penn Museum Archives.

Where the meat of this story lies, I think, is in the circumstances that led to the initiation of the project in the first place, in the way the excavation unfolded, and in the denial of Golomshtok’s visa in 1934. The first issue has to do with the reframing of prehistoric archaeology in the US and the USSR in the 1930s, and with a massive increase of interest in the Paleolithic and the migrations of human populations. Golomshtok’s own research seems to have been focused on the very early peoples of Siberia and the Americas, and in fact he originally intended to participate in a Paleolithic excavation in Siberia, not an Iron Age and medieval excavation in Crimea. The second and third issues have to do with the political situation in the Soviet Union in 1933 — and here’s where archaeology and politics intersect again. Golomshtok’s report on the excavation suggests that he and Repnikov did not get along: he didn’t think that Repnikov was a good archaeologist. The unexpected denial of Golomshtok’s visa to return to the USSR in the summer of 1934 for a rescue-excavation project at Manych in the Caucasus was the object of much speculation and negotiation on the part of Penn and Golomshtok himself over the next two years. But two hints can be found in Golomshtok’s letters: one, Repnikov seems to have filed a report on the excavation in which he accused Golomshtok of taking photos of the “fortifications of Sevastopol” from the top of Eski Kermen; and two, Golomshtok suggests in a telegram that he’d been denied entry so that he couldn’t comment on the disappearance of many of the people he’d worked with at the various institutes of archaeology. The purges had begun.

A telegram sent to the Penn Museum from Golomshtok in the summer of 1934, after he leaned his visa had been denied. Image courtesy of the Penn Museum Archives.

A telegram sent to the Penn Museum from Golomshtok in the summer of 1934, after he leaned his visa had been denied. Image courtesy of the Penn Museum Archives.

All of this is a reminder that archaeologists don’t work in a realm of ideas and abstraction: we work in the real world, and are subject to the larger movements of history. The acts of discovery and of telling stories about the past are of fundamental importance in archaeology, but we shouldn’t forget that we tell those stories in the context of our own. The juxtaposition of the banal and the dramatic in these archives is a striking demonstration of this. In between the dry excavation budgets, publication agreements, and disputes over the shipping of books exchanged between Penn and partners in the USSR in this archive is the story of the Russian Revolution and its aftermath. Most of us hope to live in less interesting times, but as my colleagues and I were forcibly reminded by the change in Crimea’s status, it’s not usually up to us.