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Author(s) of the publication: Vladimir KULAKOV

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by Vladimir KULAKOV, Dr. Sc. (Hist.), Head of the Baltic Expedition, Institute of Archeology (IA), Russian Academy of Sciences

Since time immemorial our continent, Europe, has been crisscrossed by trade routes which have made it possible to forge contacts among tribes and peoples of most different regions in Europe (Scandinavia including) and Asia. This is seen in archeological evidence gained in diggings - for one, those begun by Russian archeologists in 1980 on the Amber Coast of the Baltic Sea, at the site of the Каир encampment (at Kaliningrad).

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This very site was not a random choice. As shown by old German maps, the 10th century shoreline was different from the present one and offered convenient harbors for the entry and moorage of ships. Merchants came thitherto trade in amber. Significantly, the Arab geographer Idrisi (1100 - 1161 or 1165) made mention of the Baltic town of Gintijaar, meaning "amber", that hypothetically could be connected to the Каир marketplace. The old Scandinavian name still preserved in the place name of a local woodland settlement, torg, can be rendered as a "market", or "fair".

We know that for as long as one thousand years the peoples of Northern Europe and Baltic did a brisk trade in bartering their natural wealth (amber, furs, honey, wax, fish) for wonders brought in from the Orient, first and foremost, silver items (an important consideration since Europe has no deposits of this precious metal). Eastern merchants also offered fabrics, spices, balm and other aromatic fragrances. The Scandinavians called that road of barter trade "Eastern Way" (Austrvag). Special points were set up along this route as halting places where merchants and their men collected tribute from local tribes in the form of marketable goods, items for sale manufactured from local raw materials, repaired their river boats, procured food and water supplies as well as slaves for caravan drivers. And naturally caravans took some rest in those stopping places.

Some of them were established on the western stretch of the Austrvag. It had its start in the upper reaches of the Volga, turned northwest through Novgorod and Staraya Ladoga to what is now the Gulf of Finland whence, down the Daugava, it led to the present Riga district and the shore of the Baltic Sea. Eastern caravaneers could thus get to large European torgs and market their merchandise there.

Yet another trade route led from the south to the Baltic, one known as the way "From Varangians to the Greeks", connecting Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Empire, and Russian towns along the Dnieper. At Polotsk this route crossed the Austrvag. Farther northwest the merchandise was reloaded onto caravans following down the Neman. This leg "From the Varangians to the Greeks" crossed a major marketplace at Каир, where wholesale purchases of amber were made. Thence the caravaneers' rowboats headed further north and, getting across the Brokist Strait in the vicinity of what is now the resort town of Zelenogradsk (Kaliningrad administrative region of the Russian Federation) made for Scandinavia.

So it came to pass that Каир became a hub of trade pathways - and war skirmishes, too. Archeological dig-

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gings began there way back in 1865. Archeologists took interest in a major cemetery with more than 500 burial mounds put up in the 9th and 10th centuries, most likely by Scandinavians.

Apart from our Institute, this territory is also investigated by the joint Roman-German Commission (Frankfurt am Main), and the Archeology Museum at Gottoorf (Schleswig, Germany). The regional Kaliningrad Local History and Arts Museum is providing substantial support to field parties. The project is sponsored by the European Social Fund (ESF). Also, the Geophysical Research Institute of Christian Albrechts Universitat (Kiel, Germany) offers expertise. And last, a German field party is acting on its program within the framework of our Baltic Expedition.

The centerpiece of the Каир archeological complex is a mound-and-ground burial site where Russian archeologists are engaged most actively. Although it lies within the ambit of early medieval Prussian culture, many artifacts recovered there and dating to the 9th and 10th centuries are mostly of Scandinavian origin. Even stone structures found within the mounds are done in a row-boat's shape, a style characteristic of Norsemen.

In fact, after the very first diggings performed by German archeologists in 1865, they came to the conclusion that the mounds had been erected by Vikings who came to the Amber Coast from Gotland, Sweden, or else from Denmark's outskirts.* The excavations on the site of the local burial grounds, too, confirm the Scandinavian presence - of settlers, tradesmen and soldiers - for about 200 years. This is also seen in the archeological artifacts recovered in the trade and industrial townships in the Amberland: at Grobinja, Haitabu, Birka, Kaunang, Roerik Stroemken-dorf, Menzlin, Volin, Rasljvik and Truso, where Norsemen were likewise playing an important role.

But there is also an opinion concerning the multiethnic structure of the population who left its burial mounds in the locality. To some extent Russian archeologists subscribe to such assumptions.


See: V. Kulakov, "Relics Left by Amber Coast Warriors", Science in Russia, No. 3, 2004; id., "They Reigned in the Baltic", Science in Russia, No. 4, 2005. - Ed.

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The first signs of trade and economic activities at Каир were found south, west and east of the mounds. Using up-to-date equipment, our archeologists surveyed an area of 65.5 hectares or about 162.5 acres. They made measurements in a natural magnetic field with the aid of computer hard- and software. The charts thus obtained look like X-ray shots. Upon data processing and evaluation it would become possible to visualize the archeological pattern of the ancient settlement at Kaup.

We should go on with further excavations to be in the clear about the time and designation of the recovered objects. Combining diggings and instrumental studies we shall get more reliable bits of evidence on the ancient settlement and make more substantive conclusions. Like it was with the ruins having strata of burnt clay. Using the radiocarbon technique we could date these ruins to the Iron Age. And our archeologists could thus determine the age of ceramics fragments, pottery, silver coins,

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circular clasps of brass for attire and other ornamental items hailing from later periods. All these finds attest to the brisk economic and cultural activities of Kaupian townfolk and elate us to push ahead with our work.

But we do not forget about the Amber Chamber (Room) either-one that the Nazis stole from the Catherinian Palace at Tsarskoye Selo south of St. Petersburg during the Second World War. Both Russian and German experts are going on with their search.

Recently Sergei Trifonov, a Kaliningrad historian, said he knew exactly the place where the retreating Germans had hidden the Amber Chamber treasures in April 1945, namely in an underground tunnel under the Pregol. They applied special technologies precluding the seepage of subterranean waters. In his opinion, the tunnel dug 16.5 meters under the river's bed offered ideal conditions for the upkeep of the amber wonders. This version drew interest from Russian and German scientists alike. The Germans aim to come to Kaliningrad in the spring of 2007 to take part in a joint search for the Amber Chamber under the Pregol's bed.

So, the interest in this land and its exciting history is alive and growing. Mass cultural activities and functions are fueling this interest. Late in July 2006 a vivid folk festival, Kaup, was staged here, involving members of war history clubs of Russia and Poland. They fought demonstration battles in ancient warriors' garb and even stormed a wooden fortress raised for the occasion.

There were exhibitions of the handiwork of those times (fishing tackle, household items, ornamental and decorative pieces). Men demonstrated the combat skills and outfit of Vikings. The festival showed that we are doing our hard work not in vain. This work builds a bridge over long stretches of history, it rears people in the spirit of friendship among nations, and instills love for their land.


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Vladimir KULAKOV, EXCAVATIONS TELL... // London: Libmonster (LIBMONSTER.COM). Updated: 29.09.2018. URL: https://libmonster.com/m/articles/view/EXCAVATIONS-TELL (date of access: 28.11.2021).

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