In Antiquity

Gurzufskoye Sedlo
"Ancient Chersonesos"of Strabo
"Another Harbor of the Chersonesites"
Kalos Limen
Roman strongholds
The Sanctuary on the Isthmus of the Saki Lake
Symbolon Limen

In the Middle Ages


This Late Scythian settlement was located on the west coast of Crimea to the north from Chersonesos at the place where the Al'ma river flows into the Black Sea. The steep left bank of Al'ma rises up to 30 m above the sea level and makes a triangle cape, on top of which the site is located. It is interesting to mention that on the old maps of the 18th and 19th centuries the coastal line at this place looked like a straight strip, although the sea intensively eroded the coast and the picture has changed. Preserved area (more than 6 Ha) of Ust'-Al'ma site of the Late Scythian town exceeds that of the Greek cities of the north-west Crimea, Kerkinitis and Kalos Limen, and of all Late Scythian sites but the capital of the kingdom, Kermenchik.

As in nearly all Late Scythian settlements, they dug ditch and raised rampart at the naturally unprotected west flank of the site. The Scythians built a wall of adobe bricks above the rampart. Outside the wall, there was an outer hold of the castle, the "burgs".

Ust'-Al'ma is the only Scythian settlement established in the west coast of Crimea. It was wedge in between Chersonesos and the settlements of its remote chora in the north-west Crimea. It is difficult to imagine how Chersonesos could realize permanent connections with the settlements of its chora if there was so large and well-fortified fortress of the hostile Scythians between them. That is why the scholars think that Ust'-Al'ma settlement appeared in the late II century BC, that is to say after the Scythians had already conquered the north-west region of the Crimea. There are remains of ancient roads connecting this settlement with Kerkinitis, Kalos Limen, Chersonesos and towns oin the central part of Scythia discovered near the Ust'-Al'ma site.

Household and dwelling buildings stretched along paved with stone slabs or sea pebble streets. The houses were built of stones or adobe bricks on the stone socle. In order to protect their buildings of cold winter wind, the Scythians made doors in the opposite, south-west wall of the houses. In spite of Chersonesos' location not fare from Ust'-Al'ma, the imported tiles considered expensive and prestigious material. It covered the nobility houses, though the ordinary people probably used straw and boards for this purpose. In the middle of each house was a clay fireplace. The Scythians arranged household pits and stone cattle mangers in the courtyards.

Agriculture was the most important occupation of the dwellers of the Ust'-Al'ma. They cultivated wheat, rye, and barley, vetch, lentil, and pea. Wheat was cultivated mainly for export and was the main source of income. Crimean wheat was used for making high quality and tasty bread and was rated highly in Greece. As Plinius put it, "There are many sorts of grain, which have been grown by different peoples... Greece also favored Pontic (Black Sea) [grain], which does not reach Italy... Nowadays grain from the Gaul and imported from Chersonesos (in this case Chersonesos means Crimea) is the most light from all the sorts of grain which are delivered to Rome..." (Plin. NH 18. 63, 66).

The settlement was annexed by fields, which now are plowed up, so it is not possible to trace the ancient grid of plots. Harvests of wheat were stored in grain pits, a number of which was excavated in the site. Some pits were more than 3 m deep, 1.8 m wide, and bulked 3m3. In the middle of many pits were post-holes for support of roofing over the pit. These pits were not only used for keeping grain but also were cellars for meat, milk, and other provisions. There also were fireplace, garbage, and cult pits. Grain was milled with small stone corn graters or large millstones, which were rotated by wooden handles.

The Scythians learnt the art of cultivating grapes probably from the Hellenes. Excavating the settlement and related to it cemetery, the archaeologists have found grape cores and a fragment of a handheld stone wine press. The Scythians bred cows, sheep, goats, pigs, and hens. Net plummets and fishing hook have been excavated in the site of the settlement: the closeness to the sea stimulated the development of fishing. The finds included bones of food fishes, flounders, sea crucian, and grey mullet. The Scythians developed spinning, weaving, and bronze casting, processing of iron, stone, wood, bone, and leather.

© N. Khrapunov.

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