Проведення археологами незаконних розкопок на наземній частині городища Акра. Фото www.krym4you.com
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Acra. Consequences of the occupation for cultural heritage

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Acra is a small ancient port city located in the southernmost point of the Kerch Strait, at the foot of Cape Takil near the modern village Naberezhne of the Leninsky district, the Autonomous Republic of Crimea. It was founded in the late 6th century BC and existed until the 4th century AD when due to the lowering of the shore the settlement was flooded. Nowadays, the defensive walls and towers of Acra, which is also called the “Crimean Atlantis”, can be seen on the shelf under the waters of the Kerch Strait a few tens of meters from the coast at a depth of 4 meters.

Due to the fact that Acra had a favorable geographical position on the south of the European coast of the Kerch Strait (Cimmerian Bosporus), this settlement is repeatedly mentioned in the works of Greek and Roman authors. However, this written evidence contains very brief information about the city. For example, in its Geography, Strabo mentions Acra in the context of the description of the Cimmerian Bosporus: “Nearby is the settlement of Patraei, from which 130 stages to the settlement of Korokondami. The settlement is the end of the so-called Cimmerian Bosporus. This is the name of the narrow strait at the entrance to Meotida; it stretches from the gorges between Achilles and Myrmekion close to Korokonda and a small settlement called Acra, which lies opposite the area of the Pantikapeians. Acra is separated from Korokonda by a strait 70 stages wide. Because the ice also extends still [ie to the narrow strait], when during frosts Meotida freezes and one can walk on ice. There are convenient harbors everywhere in this narrow strait.”

In addition to Strabo, Acra was mentioned by Ptolemy and Stephen of Byzantium, who only stated the geographical location of the settlement.

In the period 2014 – 2021, specialists of the Institute of the History of Material Culture of the Russian Academy of Sciences (a group led by a researcher of the Department of Protective Archeology of the Institute of the History of Material Culture of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Ph. S. Solovyova) under the guise of “archeological research” unlawfully conducted excavations and underwater works on the object of the cultural heritage of Ukraine in Crimea, ie “the city of Acra”, located near the village Naberezhne of the Leninsky district, the Autonomous Republic of Crimea. Archaeological artifacts were unlawfully seized from the site during these works.

During this period, unlawful excavations and underwater works (“archaeological research”) were conducted by the Institute of the History of Material Culture of the Russian Academy of Sciences (IHMC RAS) together with the Institute of Archeology of the Russian Academy of Sciences (IA RAS), the State Hermitage, NGO “Russian Geographical Society”, as well as the Crimean Republican Institution “Black Sea Center for Underwater Research”.

Numerous artifacts have been unlawfully seized from the archeological site, at least the following:

  • ceramic materials, including fragments of Attic black-glazed ware and fragments of amphorae of Sinope, Heraclea, Fasos and Chios with marks of the middle of the 4th – beginning of the 3rd century BC;
  • a gold earring with a twisted bracket and an empty lion’s head of the 4th century BC, probably made in one of the workshops of Pantikapaion;
  • a ceramic spindle whorl with a magical inscription of the 1st half of the 4th century BC;
  • fragments of amphorae, simple tableware and tiles, a pottery pan, copper antique Bosporus coins, bronze and lead products, stone mortars and fragments of black- and red-glazed tableware, a wooden comb.

Due to the nature of unlawful excavations and underwater works carried out by state budget institutions of science and culture of the Russian Federation (IHMC RAS, IA RAS, the State Hermitage, NGO “Russian Geographical Society”) with the participation of the Crimean Republican Institution “Black Sea Center for Underwater Research”, as well as in connection with the unlawful construction of a bridge across the Kerch Strait, a monument of archaeological heritage of Ukraine, the ancient city of Acra is under threat of destruction. Ancient specimens of ancient Greek (Hellenistic), Roman and other cultures are damaged.

2014

A 30-square-meter site of an ancient city was excavated to a depth of 0.4 m. The main result of the research was a survey of the tower measuring 48 square meters, which was added to the southwestern defensive wall of the city in the 2nd half of the 4th century BC. The walls of the tower, 1.1 m thick, are composed of well-worked rusted limestone blocks, supported by a wooden structure composed of massive beams. During the analysis of the filling of the tower, numerous ceramic materials were found, including fragments of Attic black-glazed pottery and fragments of amphorae of Sinope, Heraclea, Fasos and Chios with brands related to the middle of 4th – early 3rd centuries BC.[1]

On July 1, 2014, it became known that Panasonic Russia provided technical support to the archaeological expedition of the State Hermitage to Acra, providing it with a set of high-tech equipment, including a secured laptop with anti-glare screen Toughbook CF-31MZCEXF9, digital cameras Lumix DMC-FT5 and Lumix DMC-TZ35, action camera HX-A100.[2]

2015

During the works, a plot of approximately 400 square meters was cleared of silt and mapped. Excavations were carried out in a pit of 2 square meters, laid near the southwestern defensive wall. The main result was the research of three building complexes, which were the remains of at least three city buildings being the part of a residential area: they left the base of 14 walls made of stones of different sizes. A gold earring with a twisted bracket and an empty lion’s head of the 4th century BC, probably made in one of the workshops of Pantikapaion, was found near one of the masonry. During the excavations in the pit, well-preserved cultural layers of the 2nd half of the 4th century BC were traced, in which numerous ceramic materials were found, including fragments of Attic black-glazed pottery and fragments of amphorae of Sinope, Heraclea, Fasos and Chios with brands, as well as a ceramic spindle whorl with a magical inscription of the 1st half of the 4th century BC.[3]

2016

Above-ground excavations began on June 10 with the participation of 5 researchers of the Russian Geographical Society and 20 volunteers. The excavation site with an area of 125 square meters was laid on the beach, on the site of the defensive wall of the ancient settlement. A 2 m thick defensive wall was opened and a residential building of the 4th century BC was inspected at a depth of about 2 m. During the works in one of the living quarters, a potter’s cooking pot was found. Particular attention was paid to the research of the harbor of the ancient city a few hundred meters from the shore; at a depth of 5–7 m the remains of ancient and medieval anchors were traced. Fragments of amphorae, simple tableware and tiles, copper antique coins, bronze and lead products, stone mortars and fragments of black- and red-glazed ware were found.[4]

2017

Underwater research was conducted on the territory of the residential quarter of the 4th – 3rd centuries BC on an area of about 400 square meters, where the stone plinths of the walls of the houses, the remains of the stone pavement of the yard or square were discovered and two household pits were excavated. The underwater excavation site with an area of 16 square meters was laid near the outer face of the southwestern defensive wall. During the excavations, numerous fragments of amphorae of various centers of production of the Black Sea and Mediterranean basins, fragments of table and kitchen utensils of imported and local production, copper coins of Bosporus minting, a wooden comb were found. Above-ground research began on July 10 with the participation of 13 volunteers and 3 researchers of the Russian Geographical Society. The excavation site with an area of 25 square meters was laid on the beach. Among the finds are fragments of amphorae, simple tableware and tiles, antique copper coins, bronze and lead products, fragments of black-glazed Attic vessels, fragments of simple tableware and kitchen utensils.[5]

2018

The “Ancient Comprehensive Expedition” took place with the participation of two employees of the State Hermitage and 10 volunteers. The excavation site with an area of 100 square meters was laid on the beach, in the area of housing dating back to the first centuries BC, which was freed from the sand due to severe storms. As a result of research of the underwater part of Acra, it was found that the latest objects of urban development date back to the 3rd century BC. Underwater excavations were aimed at studying a residential building of the 4th century BC at a depth of about 2 meters. Near the southwestern defensive wall excavations were carried out on an area of 14 square meters. Excavations of a 49-square-meter defensive tower were also carried out in order to study and further preserve it. Remains of ancient and medieval anchors were traced at a depth of 5-7 meters. Among the finds were fragments of amphorae, simple tableware and tiles, black and red-glazed vessels, as well as antique copper coins, bronze and lead products, and stone mortars. The report noted that the works on Acra provided a rare opportunity to study the features of the Bosporus fortifications of urban construction in ancient times and to practice the methods of underwater archeology.[6] 

2019

The “Ancient Comprehensive Expedition” took place at the Acra site with the participation of employees of the IHMC RAS, the State Hermitage, the Russian Geographical Society and the Black Sea Center for Underwater Research. The main objects of the research were two defensive walls, one of which was opened to a length of 170 meters, a defensive tower with an area of 49 square meters and a large stone pavement (probably a town square or yard). Numerous and various archeological materials from houses containing fragments of amphorae of various Mediterranean and Black Sea centers, painted and simple black-glazed Attic and red clay utensils of local production, as well as various metal and bone products allow to date the open urban development back to the middle of 4th – 3rd centuries BC.[7] 

2021

On July 7, 2021, the press service of IHMC RAS announced the resumption of unlaful research of the above-ground and underwater parts of Acra together with the State Hermitage. According to the head of the expedition Sergey Solovyov, the above-ground excavation, which was investigated in 2020, is being deconserved. On land, research continues on the site where the remains of a street and two Roman houses were previously discovered.[8]

On July 19, 2021, it became known that an “archaeological expedition” conducting unlawful excavations of the ancient settlement of Acra in the east of Crimea, found a rare find on the site, ie a ring-seal. According to the member of the “expedition”, a researcher at the State Hermitage Elena Arsentieva, the ring depicts the so-called “Aphrodite with a mirror”: a woman squatting and holding a round object, on her head she has something like a cap. She also added that such rings served as a personal signature or seal: in 10 years of underwater research of Acra it is the second discovery of jewelry.

The head of the “expedition” Sergei Solovyov said that this year an excavation site was laid in the underwater part of the settlement, within which fell one of the spacious rooms of the building, located near the city center. This season also continued unauthorized research of a section of the street and two adjacent Roman buildings discovered in 2020. Another excavation site was laid in the above-ground part of the settlement.[9]

Thus, by decision of the top political leadership of the Russian Federation, the occupation authorities expropriated the property of the state of Ukraine, organized and carried out unlawful excavations with the involvement of Russian budgetary institutions of science and culture, seized valuable artifacts from the archaeological site.

The group of monitoring experts of the Regional Center for Human Rights,

the working group of the expert network “Crimean Platform – Humanitarian Policy”

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[1] The State Hermitage report. 2014 / The State Hermitage. – SPb.: Publishing house of the State Hermitage Museum, 2015. 244 p., ill.: P. 150. – Access mode:      : https://www.hermitagemuseum.org/wps/wcm/connect/0868d170-3ae8-4699-8e41-9f644a0a0f73/%D0%9E%D1%82%D1%87%D0%B5%D1%82+%D0%93%D0%BE%D1%81%D1%83%D0%B4%D0%B0%D1%80%D1%81%D1%82%D0%B2%D0%B5%D0%BD%D0%BD%D0%BE%D0%B3%D0%BE+%D0%AD%D1%80%D0%BC%D0%B8%D1%82%D0%B0%D0%B6%D0%B0+2014.pdf?MOD=AJPERES&CONVERT_TO=url&CACHEID=ROOTWORKSPACE-0868d170-3ae8-4699-8e41-9f644a0a0f73-l4fSHkd

[2] Panasonic and the Hermitage: in search of Acra’s treasures. Panasonic Rus LLC. 01.07.2014 Access mode:

https://archive.is/iArst

[3] The State Hermitage report. 2015 / The State Hermitage. – SPb.: Publishing house of the State Hermitage Museum, 2016. 200 p., ill.: P. 116. – Access mode:      : https://www.hermitagemuseum.org/wps/wcm/connect/c6c40776-75e6-449e-843c-47a7fed28774/otchet_2015.pdf?MOD=AJPERES&amp%3BCONVERT_TO=url&amp%3BCACHEID=ROOTWORKSPACE-c6c40776-75e6-449e-843c-47a7fed28774-m1kGC20

[4] The State Hermitage report. 2016 / The State Hermitage. – SPb.: Publishing house of the State Hermitage Museum, 2017. 204 p., ill.: P. 120-121. – Access mode:       https://www.hermitagemuseum.org/wps/wcm/connect/f93842af-ecd8-4446-a954-3d66054e15c4/report2016r.pdf?MOD=AJPERES&CACHEID=ROOTWORKSPACE-f93842af-ecd8-4446-a954-3d66054e15c4-lZjycIk

[5] The State Hermitage report. 2017 / The State Hermitage. – SPb.: Publishing house of the State Hermitage Museum, 2018. 216 p., ill.: P. 134-135. – Access mode: https://www.hermitagemuseum.org/wps/wcm/connect/7b60549f-4fe9-4878-bb3f-4f45626e7591/%D0%9E%D1%82%D1%87%D0%B5%D1%82+%D0%93%D0%BE%D1%81%D1%83%D0%B4%D0%B0%D1%80%D1%81%D1%82%D0%B2%D0%B5%D0%BD%D0%BD%D0%BE%D0%B3%D0%BE+%D0%AD%D1%80%D0%BC%D0%B8%D1%82%D0%B0%D0%B6%D0%B0+2017.pdf?MOD=AJPERES&CACHEID=ROOTWORKSPACE-7b60549f-4fe9-4878-bb3f-4f45626e7591-muIYRB2

[6] The State Hermitage report. 2018 / The State Hermitage. – SPb.: Publishing house of the State Hermitage Museum, 2019. 228 p., ill.: P. 134. – Access mode: https://www.hermitagemuseum.org/wps/wcm/connect/c9220123-12be-47bf-924f-beae36983491/otchet_2018.pdf?MOD=AJPERES&CACHEID=ROOTWORKSPACE-c9220123-12be-47bf-924f-beae36983491-mWT9VLJ

[7] The State Hermitage report. 2019 / The State Hermitage. – SPb.: Publishing house of the State Hermitage Museum, 2021. 244 p., ill.: P. 156. – Access mode:      : https://www.hermitagemuseum.org/wps/wcm/connect/4d36cdb4-263a-47fe-b419-cfd9d4b00347/otchet19.pdf?MOD=AJPERES&CACHEID=ROOTWORKSPACE-4d36cdb4-263a-47fe-b419-cfd9d4b00347-nz6QdmO

[8] Archaeologists of the Institute for the History of Material Culture of the Russian Academy of Sciences have resumed their studies of the above-ground and underwater parts of ancient Acra in Crimea. IHMC RAS. 07.07.2021. Access mode: https://archive.is/5sTd5

[9] Archaeologists have found a ring with “Aphrodite with a mirror” in Crimea. Kerch. FM. 19.07.2021. Access mode: https://archive.is/W9mBD

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Implemented within the project “Information Platform” Voice of Crimea. Culture “- about Crimea honestly, qualitatively, actually” with the support of the Media Development Fund of the US Embassy in Ukraine. The views of the authors do not necessarily reflect the official position of the US government.

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