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GOLDEN HILLS 2004 EXCAVATION REPORT

The 2004, the international expedition of Rostov State University (Russia), Center for the Study of Eurasian Nomads (USA), and Donskaya Arkheologia journal (Russia) continued excavations of the Khazar period fortress, Golden Hills.

This year archaeologists concentrated on southwestern and northwestern parts of the settlement. The main task was to study the remains of a complex of stone houses and, secondarily to study the earlier level, also belonging to the Khazar period, that was located under the level of the stone buildings. The excavations were carried out to virgin soil over most of the total area excavated in 2004, some 274 square meters.

In the southwestern sector of the settlement, stone foundations reinforced with clay revealed the existence of a group of buildings. In the northwest sector, several rectangular buildings were fenced with a thick, stone wall. The most interesting artifacts in this sector of the settlement were a bronze element from a harness and a hand-molded black ceramic pot, both dating 8th century AD.

In the northwestern part of the settlement, remains of stone houses were excavated. The small area fenced with a wall and paved with the flat stones defined where the houses had once stood.Pits were also excavated in the pavement. These might have been the foundation for wooden logs that had supported a shed. A small oven for making flat cakes was also excavated.

Several kitchen pits, possibly used for storing food, were found in this part of a fortress. One had been used by the local people as a grave as they were abandoning the settlement. A male burial with parts of a harness and pieces of iron was found in the pit.

Four additional burials were also excavated. It is assumed they date to the era of the Golden Horde as they predated the settlement.

When the archaeologists reached the bottom of the burial in a kitchen pit, they discovered an entrance to a shaft (a dromos) leading to a catacomb burial beneath the burial. Due to the lateness of the season, it was impossible to excavate the second burial so the shaft was conserved so that it can be excavated next season. This shaft may lead to a burial dating to the second millennium BC: a Middle Bronze Age Catacomb Culture. If not this, then it may be a Sarmatian catacomb burial, or a Khazar era Alanic catacomb burial. Most likely it is the remains of a Bronze Age kurgan that was leveled to build the settlement. During the 2005 season, the volunteers working at Golden Hills will have a chance to excavate not only a medieval fortress but also possibly this Bronze Age kurgan.

GOLDEN HILLS PHOTOGRAPHS

View of a fortress hill

Excavating

Excavating stone house foundations

Southwestern sector of the settlement, remains of stone buildings

Northwestern sector of the settlement, remains of a oven (lower right) and stone pavement

A burial dating to the era of Golden Horde

Bronze element from a harness

Ceramic sherd

In camp, dining hall

Excursion to ancient city Tanais

Excursion to ancient city Tanais

A folk festival

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