The Lebedev Laboratory of Archaeology, Historical Sociology and Cultural Heritage at St Petersburg University has finished to conduct the rescue excavations of the burial mound near the village of Bolshoe Stremlenie. It is the largest of the fully explored Izhora’s burial mounds of the late Middle Ages and Early Modern Period. Scientists have studied about 350 burials. Such rescue excavations have not been conducted for about 30 years.
The ancient burial mound was located near the town of Sosnovy Bor. It was discovered and partially studied in the 1980s by Olga Konkova, a famous researcher of Historical Ingria and a graduate of Leningrad State University.
‘Most of the Leningrad Region is Historical Ingria. It was the land where small Finno-Ugric peoples lived. There were Votes, Izhorians, and others. Since the late 19th century, archaeologists have searched for the monuments that remained after these peoples. Yet all their attempts were unsuccessful. It was only long after researchers started to search, when they found, noticed, understood... Among the researchers was an ethnographer Olga Konkova, who was partially engaged in archaeology. She was of Izhorian origin. Much was done by her to preserve information about the small peoples of Historical Ingria. The burial mound of the Bolshoe Stremlenie village is located on the top of a large beautiful hill, open to the winds of the Gulf of Finland. It was Olga Konkova who conducted the first small excavations here', says Elena Mikhailova, Head of the Lebedev Laboratory of Archaeology, Historical Sociology and Cultural Heritage at St Petersburg University.
The burial mound was located on the top of the sandy hill beyond the northern border of the village. To the north of the cemetery, a sand quarry was developed in the 1980s. Yet during the perestroika, all works were frozen. In the late 2000s, the development of the quarry was resumed. By 2015, the cemetery had been partly destroyed.
In 2019, Vladislav Sobolev conducted rescue archaeological works. He is a senior research associate at the Laboratory of Archaeology. Over 1,000 square metres of the territory were explored, with over 100 burials dating from the 13th to 15th centuries being discovered. The cemetery was found out to have occupied a much larger area than it had been initially assumed. In fact, it occupied the entire top of the hill.
The locals have preserved the memory of the old cemetery on the hill. They call it a 'Swedish cemetery' and associate it with the Swedes who were once defeated there.
Vladislav Sobolev, Senior Research Associate at the Laboratory of Archaeology
‘Our ideas about the old cemeteries located across a huge territory, namely Leningrad, Novgorod, Pskov, Smolensk regions, and Belarus, have been significantly changed. In other words, old village cemeteries are associated mostly with the conquerors who had been on the territory, rather than with our ancestors. Depending on the region, the ancient cemeteries are called “Swedish”, “Lithuanian”, or “French”', says Vladislav Sobolev.
In 2020, due to the pandemic and the procedure to get approval for conducting additional works, there was a short pause. Yet in May 2021, the excavations resumed and were headed by Kirill Shmelev, a research associate at the St Petersburg University's Laboratory of Archaeology. Vladislav Sobolev also took part in the works.
The excavations discovered about 350 burials dated the 13th to 17th centuries; details of a costume; Orthodox Christian crosses; fragments of ceramic vessels; knives; women's jewellery; a battle hatchet; and Swedish and Russian coins to name but a few.
The Bolshoe Stremlenie burial mound is essential for the study of the ethnic history of the North-West region. It was probably abandoned by the Izhorians, i.e. the local Finnishspeaking Orthodox people who were the main peasant population on the coast of the Gulf of Finland. The history of the Izhorians, who gave the name to the whole of Historical Ingria, is closely associated with the history of the north-western Novgorod lands, and later the Petersburg province.
Some of the burials date back to the period of the Swedish rule. The latest burials were made no earlier than 1671. This is the date of making the earliest of the Swedish coins found there. The coin was found in a burial in the south-western, most recent part of the cemetery and dates the end of the time when it was in usage.
The remains are now being studied by anthropologists. Presumably, it will be possible to carry out studies to gain a better understanding of their basic characteristics, i.e. gender, age of the buried people, traumas, etc., and family ties between the buried people, to learn more about the quality of life, past diseases, and to get other information.
We have learned a lot of curiosities. For example, trade relations with European cities, most likely with Narva.
Vladislav Sobolev, Senior Research Associate of the Laboratory of Archaeology
'The peasants of the 17th century are generally believed to have been poor people who worked to get food. Yet, what we have found in the graves, i.e. silver clasps or, for example, ordinary penknives that are most likely to have been made in Europe, evidences that the peasants were far from being poor as previously assumed. Imported knives are very similar to those we have today. Yet we cannot say for sure what kind of wood the linings on their cheeks are made of. These trees are not the species that grow here. They are different. It seems to me that buying such a simple thing as a knife from a visiting merchant may well be evidence. A very poor person is very unlikely to buy an expensive imported knife. They could buy a cheap one from a local blacksmith,’ says Vladislav Sobolev.
It is noteworthy that in 2019, when there were works conducted in the village of Bolshoe
Stremlenie, the Institute for the History of Material Culture of the Russian Academy of
Sciences also conducted rescue excavations on the site of the church in the village of Kovashi. It is 30 kilometres away from Bolshoe Stremlenie. They intended to restore the church, which was destroyed during the Soviet era. In recent years, there was a dump. Before starting the construction and building works, they examined the land. This showed that the church was built on the site where the cemetery of the 15th-17th centuries had been located.
Our colleagues have very similar findings: the same knives and a few crosses. We found only two crosses. The fact is that the tradition of burying the dead with so-called items of personal piety appeared in Russia rather late.
Vladislav Sobolev, Senior Research Associate of the Laboratory of Archaeology
‘Archaeological research shows that during the 11th to 17th centuries and, presumably, part of the 18th century, it was customary to remove a cross or an icon worn by the deceased before burying a dead body. During that time, the percentage of findings of personal piety is very low, i.e. two or three findings per 50 graves. The tradition might have been changed in the 17th or 18th century. Seemingly, when it comes to the details of how funerals were conducted, much depended on local traditions and ideas of the local priest,' explains Vladislav Sobolev.
In the 1980s, two medieval stone crosses stood on the burial mound. Now one of them has been moved to a modern village cemetery, while the second has been moved to a museum in the village of Vistino.
Today, Bolshoe Stremlenie is the largest fully explored Izhora’s burial mound of the late Middle Ages and Early Modern Period. The research may result in a large complex archaeological and ethnographic work dedicated to the microregion on the southern coast of the Gulf of Finland, its population, and culture.