A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

Special Introductory Offer!
interactive digs
Following the Fishermen's Lead "Beneath the Black Sea"
Summer 2000

We're back to work Monday morning, heading west out of town to the beach at Veseloe. Some local fishermen had reported finding ceramics along a rocky ridge beneath this small bay framed by Cape Chaiken to the east and Ai (Saint) Phocas Mountain to the west. Zelenko had done some work in the bay before, and knew that there was a rock-sand division similar to that at Meganom that started 80 feet out from the tip of Ai Phocas. Like at Meganom, the divers are to swim along this boundary looking for pottery sherds. Loscha and I are first on the dive roster, and as I'm putting my gear into the boat he tosses me a neoprene hood. "Here, you'll need this." I hate wearing a dive hood, which covers everything except a small circle of face and tucks into your wetsuit, and restricts your hearing and movement. We're only planning to dive to about 30 feet and I'm already wearing a toasty two-piece wetsuit, and sweating in it under the blazing sun. He ignores my protests and shoves the hood into my hands. "Trust me on this one."


As I begin my descent, the water is balmy and clear and I'm already making plans to take the annoying hood off once we get to the bottom. At about 23 feet, however, the water temperature feels as if it's dropped 20 degrees. Note to myself: listen to Loscha. We locate the rock-sand boundary and began to swim east, about 15 feet apart. Unlike at Meganom, these rocks are the size of sport utility vehicles, randomly peppering the sea bottom in a meandering line. We skim the bottom, weaving our way through the boulders and trying not to swim directly into them while keeping our eyes down in search of ceramics. I begin to appreciate the hood's auxiliary function as a sort of underwater crash helmet.

The southern tip of Ai (Saint) Phocas mountain

After an hour, we surface empty-handed, having encountered only old tires and hundreds of rappan, sea snails, that carpet the bottom and are pretty tasty when sautéed with garlic--sort of a Black Sea escargot. Subsequent dives are no more successful. The next day, Zelenko breaks out his small sonar kit, which is often used by fishermen to detect large schools of fish but also displays the contour of the sea bottom--not truly ideal for archaeological use but at least it may show us if there is, as Zelenko thinks, a secondary rock ridge running parallel to the one we investigated the day before. We spend a couple of hours running a search pattern out from shore, again with no success. This is the tedium of archaeology that you never see on the Discovery Channel, the weeks and even months of searching with nothing to show for it; the meager resources of the UARTC--with six tanks, one boat and a restriction on diving below 30 feet (due in part to equipment limitations)--make the situation even more frustrating.

Zelenko holds the sonar transponder over the side of the boat while Lonya drives

Before calling it a day, we point the boat east and head towards Tsar's Bay, an idyllic little enclave where the ill-fated Nicholas II and his family spent their last summer before the October Revolution. Rounding Cape Chaiken, Lonya points out the magnificent peaks of Karauloba which mark the western edge of Tsar's Bay. Karauloba was known as Lookout Mountain to the ancient Taurians, who, according to Herodotus, had a habit of dismembering hapless shipwrecked sailors who washed up on their coast. Beyond Tsar's Bay lies Novy Svet, and we continued cruising to the base of Mt. Eagle, where an enormous cave running deep into the mountain was once used to store Novy Svet's best-known product, champagne.


Karauloba, known as Lookout Mountain to the ancient Taurians, who had a habit of dismembering hapless shipwrecked sailors who washed up on their coast. The view of Karauloba was particularly admired by the ill-fated Nicholas II, who spent his last summer here before the October Revolution.

Tourists flock around the enormous cave at the southern end of Mt. Eagle, where Novy Svet's famous champagne was once stored.

While the first native champagne of the Russian Empire was produced in Sudak in 1799, the champagnes of Prince Lev Sergeevich Golitsyn and the small factory he established in Novy Svet were the first to garner international acclaim, winning the Grand Prize for winemaking in Paris in 1900. Since then, Novy Svet champagne has remained a favorite of tsars, party elite, and now the vacationers who flock to the small town to drink the bubbly like water.


This standard-issue Soviet-era mosaic celebrates Novy Svet's best-known product, champagne.

Prince Golitsyn's guest residence now houses Novy Svet's post and telephone offices.

The day after our sonar experiment, Crimea's heat and cuisine finally catch up with me and I stay in town to write and rest while the team heads back out to Meganom. Just my luck--the divers locate the main concentration of tenth-century ceramics off the western flank of the cape that day, and return to camp with some amazing samples of the type A and B amphoras found previously at Meganom, as well as in the area of tenth-century ceramic scatter adjacent to the thirteenth-century wreck in Novy Svet bay.


This graffiti on a tenth-century amphora sherd from Meganom suggests a stalk of wheat, although grain was not normally stored in amphoras. Perhaps an abstract rendering of fishbones?

The 3 horizontal lines marked on this amphora handle from the tenth-century wreck in Novy Svet bay may indicate its contents: wine, water, or oil?

"N" is for Nikolas?

Our amphoras were sealed with pine bark stoppers and a coat of resin. After 1,100 years, the resin still remains around the mouth of this amphora.

We examine the amphora fragments for graffiti, marks usually incised on the handles or shoulders of an amphora to indicate its contents or the owner of its contents. These marks are of particular interest to Zelenko, who along with his colleagues at Kiev University is currently compiling a catalog of Byzantine amphora graffiti.


Nadia, our resident archaeological illustrator, takes measurements from one of the type B amphoras from Meganom.

Zelenko and I review the digital photographs we took of the inscribed sherds from Meganom.

The expedition is beginning to wind down, and Zelenko decides to spend the next couple of days with Nadia, our resident illustrator, recording and cataloging the new finds. I take advantage of the opportunity and ask Loscha to show me his hometown of Sevastopol, former home of the Soviet Black Sea fleet. [Next...]

Intro | Email Kristin | Map

© 2000 by the Archaeological Institute of America