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The medieval town of David-gorod, Belarus.

David-gorod, now in the state of Belarus, is an ancient wood-built settlement in eastern Europe, where astounding preservation of timber buildings, streets and objects gives us a full and organic view of its medieval world. The finds from excavations in 1937--8, conducted by the Panstwowe Muzeum Archeologiczne, Warsaw, are at last being published -- metal, glass, pottery, leather, bone, stone, textile, along with the wood. The town was an important craft centre with trade links to Old Rus and beyond.

Location and history of research

The town of David-gorod (Dawidgrodek in Polish) is situated on the banks of the river Horyn, a tributary of the river Pripyat' (FIGURE 1). Its defensive position on a slight hill situated on the right bank of the river is reinforced by the boggy valley of the river Niepravda to the south and the marshy plain to the east. The town is now within the borders of Belarus (Byelorussia) but was formerly part of Poland. Following the destruction by fire of a wooden Orthodox church, the cutting of foundation trenches for the new church in 1936 exposed the remains of wooden buildings and streets. Excavations in 1937 and 1938, carried out on behalf of the Panstwowe Muzeum Archeologiczne, Warsaw, uncovered part of the medieval town, dating from the 12th--14th centuries AD (Jakimowicz 1937; 1939) (FIGURE 2). Further excavations were undertaken by the Academy of Science of the Belarussian Socialist Soviet Republic in 1967 (Lysenko 1969). The 1937--8 excavations have not been fully published (Marciniak 1969; Lozny 1985). Study of the excavations and finds, now in progress, will be published by the Panstwowe Muzeum Archeologiczne, Warsaw, as a series of major reports in Wiadomosci Archeologiczne. The first report in English is concerned with the wooden finds from David-gorod (Earwood forthcoming).

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History of the region

During the medieval period David-gorod lay within the territory of the duchy of Turov which was established by Vladimir the Great for his son Svyatopolk. After many years of Kievian dominance, the duchy became fully independent during the middle of the 12th century, but soon became divided into smaller provinces when it submitted to the Halich-Volynian dukes during the late 12th and early 13th centuries. During the 14th century these areas were dependants of Lithuania. Although the fortified town of David-gorod is not mentioned in the chronicles, it is likely that it was founded by Duke Dawid Igorivich who was granted an area of land close to the Horyn river in exchange for the lost Duchy of Volodymir (Jakimowicz 1939: 27; Lysenko 1969: 352). The name David-gorod means 'the hillfort or fortified town of David'.

During the 12th and 13th centuries, new urban centres were founded in Old Rus, many of them defended sites and often situated on hills. Their economy was based both on exploitation of the surrounding agricultural land and upon the produce of the many craftsmen who lived in the towns (Kuza 1985: 104). Trade was conducted with other Slavonic countries, with north and west Europe, and further afield, with countries of the Middle East (Darkevich 1985: 387).

Stratigraphy and structures

Precise details of the stratigraphy of the 1937--8 excavations are difficult to determine owing to the loss of records; seven levels of occupation were identified. The earliest of these (level I), dated to the beginning of the 12th century AD and laid directly upon the natural surface of white river sand, consisted of the remains of small, wattle structures, which were possibly farm buildings, and the lower part of five wooden buildings. In the second phase of occupation (level II), no buildings were identified; a fence of thick split planks crossed the earlier building. No structures were identified in levels III and IV.

In the upper levels (V to VII) were six wooden buildings, each with at least three phases of occupation. These structures, dated to the 13th and 14th centuries AD and better preserved than those of earlier phases, were built in a similar manner. Each building, square (or nearly so) in shape, was constructed of coniferous tree trunks laid horizontally one upon another (FIGURE 3). At the corners, the upper part of each beam was notched a short distance from its end. This notch secured the next beam in the other wall at the corner so the tree trunks were laid alternately from each of the two walls. The size of the buildings varied: the earlier were between 3.4 m x 3.3 m and 3.6 m square; the later were either 4.5 m or 5 m square (Marciniak 1969: 3--4). The thresholds were some way above the ground surface, sometimes as high as the fourth beam from the floor (Jakimowicz 1937: 274). The gaps between the beams were stuffed with moss, and the outer surfaces plastered with a mixture of dung, wood and bark fragments. The beams of one building were marked with cuts to record the correct position of each beam, suggesting that they were prepared outside the town, probably when felled, ready for later assembly (Jakimowicz 1937: 274). Similar numbering systems are known from houses in early-medieval Minsk (Zagorulskii 1982: 168, figure 91). No hearths or ovens were found in the buildings; similar houses excavated in 1967 had clay ovens, some renewed several times (Lysenko 1969: 371).

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In an area outside the main excavation, a further wooden building, which had two rooms, had been rebuilt many times after it was destroyed by fire. It was constructed in the same way as the other buildings; after each burning the area was strewn with white sand before rebuilding. In the smaller room was the remains of a burnt post which may have been the base of a cross (Marciniak 1969: 4). There was no domestic debris in the vicinity of the building which was enclosed by a double fence, the larger made of posts with vertical grooves into which horizontal planks were fitted. The remains of 25 wood-lined graves (12 excavated and probably 13 destroyed) were found both in an around the building, which was identified as a chapel (Marciniak 1969: 5--6) (FIGURE 4). The graves, lined with large oak and ash planks closely fitted together, contained the skeletons of adults and children. No grave goods were found, although the remains of clothes, leather shoes and a silk headband were preserved. Similarly made grave-linings or coffins, dating from the late 12th/early 13th centuries, were found in the early town of Minsk (Tarasenko 1957: 230, figure 7).

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A wooden road, of which approximately 20 m was excavated, ran across the site from northeast to southwest. The 3.2-m wide road had a foundation of thick transverse beams laid in pairs, on which were placed round joists. The surface was formed from split planks held in place at each end by pegs. An earlier road of similar construction crossed the site from west to east and was later cut by a well (FIGURE 5). Other roads were more simply constructed of cross-beams notched to hold a walkway of planks (Jakimowicz 1937: 273).

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The early town was enclosed by a rampart, between 3 and 5 m in height on the outside; it was built of sand reinforced with horizontally laid pine tree-trunks, laid parallel to the line of the rampart and perhaps secured by cross timbers (FIGURE 6). The approximate size of the area within the rampart was 100 m x 110 m. A trench, cut from one side of the medieval town to the other, indicated that the whole area inside the rampart appeared to have been built over. Unfortunately, damage caused by the foundation trenches of the 20th-century church prevented exact correlation from the stratigraphy of the main excavation to that of the chapel. During the 1967 excavations five layers of occupation were identified, with wooden structures in levels 2 to 5, presumed to correspond approximately with the seven levels of occupation identified in 1937--8 (Lysenko 1969: 352--6).

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Domestic and economic activities

A wide range of finds includes a large quantity of wheel-thrown pottery made from white clay tempered with sand (FIGURE 7). Most common is a flat-bottomed, globular shape with a short neck, variations of which are known from Turov, Pinsk and other settlements of this period (Lysenko 1969: 378). Also common is a small bowl with a handle which, like the larger pots, is often decorated with sinuous or straight horizontal grooves. These types are also sometimes decorated with small pits. Jugs, amphorae and lids occur more rarely. Only one piece with a potter's mark is recorded (Jakimowicz 1937: 276).

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Fragments of glass bracelets were found in all levels of occupation. Bracelets, very popular during the 12th and 13th century, are commonly found in Old Russian hillfort-towns including Kiev, Novgorod, Polotsk, Kostroma, Druck, Smolensk and Ryazan, also in settlements closer to David-gorod such as Minsk, Novogrudok, Brest, Turov and Pinsk. The chemical composition of the glass indicates that those from Turov and Pinsk were of Kievian origin (Shchapova 1972: 152--60). Although chemical analysis of the glass bracelets from David-gorod has not yet been carried out, it is likely that these were made in Kiev. Other glass includes pieces of rings, beads and vessels.

Among other personal ornaments is a silver lunula-pendant, of a type commonly found on settlements in Old Rus; it is unique as it is decorated on both sides (FIGURE 8.2). A gold ring was set with a red gem. Similar rings with gems, found in Novgorod, are mostly dated to the period between the late 12th and 14th centuries (Sedova 1981: 139--42). Ornaments of bronze included a ring, a buckle, a small bell, a plaited bracelet, a round pendant and a bronze-gilt ear-ring.

Finds of smiths' tools, from the 1967 excavations, demonstrate that iron tools and fittings were made at David-gorod (Lysenko 1969: 374) although no smithy was identified. Iron implements include two cylindrical padlocks and a key, of a type dated between the end of the 12th and the end of the 14th centuries (Kolchin 1959: 82), buckles, a chisel, crampons and a scythe. In this defended town there were few finds of weapons, only one battle axe, one spearhead and one arrowhead. The battle axe can be compared to ones from Minsk or Brest and from Polotsk which are dated to the middle of the 12th and to the later 13th centuries respectively (Shtykhov 1975: figure 29.2; Zagorulskii 1982: 142, figure II, 1; Lysenko 1985: 142, 205, figure 147.8). The arrowhead can be dated to a period between the 10th and 13th centuries (Gurevich 1981: 45, figures 34.2 & 60.3). A horse harness-ring and a spur with a star-shaped goad of a type used before the Mongolian invasion were also found (Kirpichnikov 1973: 67--8) (FIGURE 8).

Other crafts include leatherworking: fragments of knife-sheaths and shoes (FIGURE 8.6) as well as leather offcuts, wooden shoe-lasts and numerous awls were found. Antlers of elk and aurochs and cattle-horn were worked to make buckles, buttons, rings and awls (FIGURE 8.1). Spindles of pink and violet Volhynian slate are typical finds known also from many other sites in Old Rus and in Poland. They were produced in Owrucz and Iskorosten from the 11th century to the 1240s, when the workshops were destroyed by the Mongolian invasion.

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Agriculture played an important part in the economic life of the town. The remains of farming tools such as scythes, sickles and querns are recorded as well as tows (prepared fibres of flax) and seeds of rye and millet (Jakimowicz 1937: 277; Lysenko 1969: 379). Bone analysis demonstrates that a greater proportion of the bones were from domestic rather than wild animals (59% and 41% respectively). Cattle and pig were the common domestic animals, while beaver, elk, boar and deer were hunted (Shcheglova 1969: 407). Hooks, scales and fish-bones indicate fishing in the river Horyn. Bones of domestic fowl, fragments of egg-shell and one whole egg were also found (Marciniak 1969: 6).

The wooden artefacts

The wooden artefacts include a wide range of objects, many associated with daily domestic life. There is also evidence for the manufacture of wooden containers and tools. Domestic implements include wooden tubs, turned bowls, spoons, moulds and bases from bentwood boxes. The preparation of thread for spinning and weaving is evidenced by wooden beaters and other flax-working tools as well as spindles. Personal items include wooden combs and children's toys, while a glimpse of ceremonial or ritual activity is provided by the remains of decorated maces and what may be ritual sticks representing domestic spirits. Fragments of furniture and structural timbers from houses, roads and the rampart have also survived.

Wooden household containers and implements used in food preparation, storage and eating are numerous. Stave-built containers were widely used. Most common among a range of shapes and sizes was a small bucket or tub (FIGURE 9.1), approximately 250 mm to 300 mm in diameter and 250 mm high. In most cases the diameter at the top was slightly less than at the bottom. None of the stavebuilt vessels was found complete, and no remains of hoops or handles have been identified. Comparison with similar wooden containers from Novgorod and Opole, in Poland, suggest that they might have been bound with iron or, more often, wooden hoops (Bukowska-Gedigowa & Gediga 1986: figure 16; Kolchin 1989: 38, 40 & 272). It seems likely that some staves and bases were discarded during manufacture, while others were thrown away after the containers had been dismantled. There wooden tubs and buckets were probably used for storing and serving food and drink, while larger tubs may have been for storing grain or for washing. A possible plunge churn and the base of a small cask have also been identified.

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Other wooden wares include turned bowls (FIGURE 9.2) and plates, comparable with those from other medieval sites in Russia, Poland and Belarus; none are identical, and it is likely that local styles were developed. Several pieces of turned waste were found in David-gorod. These are of two main types: from inside the bowl and from the base of the bowl. Analysis indicates that spindles were probably fixed into the top and base of the bowl; the ends revolved on pins fixed in the two upright beams of the lathe. A rope wound around one of these spindles was pulled to and fro to provide propulsion. One end of the rope may have been fastened to a flexible pole and the other to a foot treadle; or they were fastened to a bow operated by a second person. Without surviving lathe parts it is impossible to be certain. After turning, a waste piece was removed from inside the bowl and a second piece from the base. This method of fixing the workpiece to the lathe, probably the oldest known in Europe, dates back at least to the 6th century BC (Drescher 1986: 169).

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Only the bases and lids of carved and bentwood containers were found. Most are circular lids with sloping edges and a slightly domed top. Some were made in one piece; others were composite. A single example with tapered edges may have been part of the lid of a plunge churn. Others, elliptical in shape, were probably bases for bentwood boxes. Other household utensils include wooden spoons, a spatula, a finely carved ladle found above a wood-lined well and decorated pieces of wood which are probably the remains of moulds for pressing butter or cheese. These pieces, which are approximately triangular in shape, are of two types: the first has a shallow recess which is decorated inside; the second is flat with decoration on both faces. Moulds of this type were used in Poland until recent times for pressing soft cheeses which were often used as gifts; they were of various types, including heart-shaped (Frys et al. 1988: plate 116).

Flax was processed in or close to the town, as there is a range of wooden tools for beating and combing the flax stems: beaters with cylindrical heads and handles, flat-bladed beaters or scutches and the remains of toothed objects which may have been heckles for combing the fibres. Spinning and weaving were also carried out. Wooden spindles with slightly bulbous ends were common, as were spindle-whorls of Volhynian slate. Examples of these spindles, the most common type known from Europe during the early medieval period, come from as far afield as Ireland (Earwood 1993). Although no loom parts were identified, both the horizontal and vertical loom were used at David-gorod; a shuttle from a horizontal loom (FIGURE 10.1) and a weaving sword that would have been used with a vertical loom were found in adjacent buildings.

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Naturally grown pieces of wood were used to make shapes that would otherwise have required joints. A tripod formed from the junction between a trunk and three branches may have been the base of a swift used for winding thread. Hooks, of which one may be a saddle bow, were made from the junction of a branch and trunk. Decorated maces and carved sticks with heads also used wood from the forks of branches. The larger maces were probably used as symbols of office associated with the leaders of the town's administration; the smaller carved sticks may have been associated with pagan rites (Kolchin 1989: 168, 191).

Although microscopic identification of all the wood species has not been possible, it is clear that certain species were chosen for specific purposes: only coniferous woods for cooperage; bowls mainly turned from ash; tools and handles carved from hard deciduous species; bark and lightweight woods for discs which may have been net-floats. The buildings were mainly constructed from coniferous tree trunks, with some split oak planks for road surfaces and for flooring.

A range of children's wooden toys includes spinning-tops, a wooden sword (FIGURE 10.2) and three toy boats (FIGURE 11) which reflect the types of boats which may have been used on the river Horyn during the medieval period. The largest toy boat appears to be a dug-out which was widened by carving out the inside, heating it and stretching the sides with poles. The shape was maintained by inserting a wooden frame. These dug-outs, known in eastern and northern Europe from as early as the Iron Age, are still made in Finland (Crumlin-Pedersen 1972: 225-8; Cristensen 1977). The smaller toy boats are copies of narrow dug-outs, one with flat ends and the other with pointed ends and two thwarts (Dembinska & Podwinska 1978: 143). This type, well known in Europe, was used in eastern European countries until the 20th century.

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Most of the graves at David-gorod were lined with wood in the manner of a stone cist rather than containing wooden coffins. Wide planks, usually of oak or ash, were used. The base, sides and ends each consisted of one plank, while the lid was formed from two narrower planks. Although the pieces were crudely jointed together there were no fastenings and no way of securing the base to the sides. For single infant burial, a coffin made from a small wooden box was fastened with a hooked stick.

The distribution of the wooden artefacts demonstrates that most activity took place in the later phases, during the 13th and 14th centuries. The majority were found in only three buildings (I, III and IV), where all the main types of woodworking were represented both by waste material and woodworking tools. Many staves were found also in the foundations of the road. The wide range of wooden objects -- combs, maces, toys, hooks, handles, discs, pegs, moulds, spoons, bowls and stave-built containers -- from the buildings of later phases suggests that these were dwellings, although no hearths or stoves were found. The waste material from turning and cooperage demonstrate that these buildings were also used as workshops. Few wooden artefacts were found in the buildings dated to the 12th century, and the range of objects was more restricted.

The wooden artefacts from David-gorod represent many of the daily activities of its inhabitants. The preparation, storage and serving of food and drink required wooden bowls, tubs, spoons, ladles and moulds which were made by craftsmen in the town. Flax was processed near by, spun and woven into cloth. Children played with their toys. People probably fished in the near-by river using nets and dug-out boats. Finally they died and were buried in wood-lined graves.

Conclusion

The location of many fortified towns of the Turov region and the nature of the finds from them indicates their principal function was as craft and industrial centres for the surrounding area. Most towns were adjacent to fertile soils underlining the importance of agriculture in their economies. Except at Turov, there is no evidence they were ducal administrative centres or defensive border points (Lysenko 1966: 273-4). Written sources indicating close political, economic and cultural relations between the regions of Turov and Kiev are reinforced by the movement of goods such as stone objects and glass ornaments. Imports also came from further afield. Amphorae filled with wine and oil arrived from the Black Sea area via Kiev; trade items from the Baltic, Poland and western Europe are also recorded in the fortified towns of Turov (Lysenko 1982: 104-5). The range of finds from David-gorod is typical.

Current research on the stratigraphy and finds from David-gorod will provide a better appreciation of the economic and social life of the early town as well as clarifying the nature and extent of trade links with other settlements in Old Rus and further afield.

Acknowledgements. Thanks are due to the Leverhulme Trust who funded the study of the wooden artefacts from David-gorod, and to the staff of the Panstwowe Muzeum Archeologiczne, Warsaw for their assistance and advice.

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Author:Earwood, Caroline; Malachowska, Sylwia
Publication:Antiquity
Date:Sep 1, 1993
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