Danish archaeologists uncover ancient killing fields in the Ukraine

Chersonesos was an ancient city on the Crimean peninsula, in today’s Ukraine; the name itself means ‘peninsula’, and Greeks founded it some 2500 years ago, to supply their homeland with grain and other strategic resources. The famed Greek city-states had much need of such resources in order to survive and thrive.

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Archaeologists from Aarhus (Denmark) have been exploring the development of the rural area from its peak until its decline; their conclusion is a pretty dire one: during a crisis in the 300BC, much of the population was slain following a military invasion. Men, women and children – they found skeletons of all.

“We’ve learned things that have changed our view of what life was like in the Chersonesean countryside, which the Greeks called chora. The city’s rural territory, particularly on the Herakleian and Tarkhankut peninsulas, is incredibly well preserved. The houses of the rural population dating back to about 300 BC lie dotted around the untouched landscape in the form of ruins that are still visible. For instance, in one of the excavated ruins we have found the remains of a whole family. So we’re working on a murder scene dating back 2,300 years,” reports project director Vladimir Stolba, an archaeologist from Aarhus University.

Chersonesos and its rural area have just been added to UNESCO’s list of world heritage sites – it is a perfect example of how Greek organization changed and improved settlements in that period.

“We’ve had several teams of students from Denmark and the host country Ukraine on our expeditions. It’s been a great experience and very fruitful collaboration. We are in a lucky and, in a sense, unique situation to work on short-lived rural sites which have never been re-inhabited since their destruction in the early 3rd century BC. The picture that emerges from the excavations is a snapshot of daily activities of the ancient peasantry, of its life and dramatic death. We’ve found answers to many of our research questions: for instance, who cultivated the Greek grain fields, how densely the area was settled and how it was organised, and how the ancient population adapted to changes in cultural and natural environment. The answers have given rise to new questions that we want to explore next. The world heritage status will hopefully help to preserve this unique area despite the increase in tourism and tourism infrastructure development, enabling us to continue our work,” concludes Vladimir Stolba.

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