Использование природной среды: дикие животные в средневековом Новгороде и на Новгородской земле (Using the Natural Environment: The exploitation of wild animals in medieval Novgorod and its territory)

Authors: Maltby, M., Brisbane, M., Hambleton, E. and Hamilton-Dyer, S.

Pages: 203-221

Publisher: Russian Academy of Sciences: Institute for the History of Material Culture

Place of Publication: St Petersburg

DOI: 10.31600/1817-6976-2020-28-203-222


All of the authors of this paper would like to record the tremendous debt we owe to Evgenii Nikolaivich Nosov. Without his encouragement, support and friendship it would not have been possible for any of us to develop the close academic links with our Novgorod colleagues that Evgenii so ardently helped to foster and develop. Through many years (1989–2018), Evgenii was central to all our work, helping where he could, offering advice and information that made us stop and think, and always with a smile and a funny story to encourage us to keep going. He will be deeply missed as an international medieval scholar and superb archaeological project organiser, but above all as a true and abiding friend. The paper takes as its theme something which Evgenii encouraged in our collaboration right from the start, namely the link between archaeological settlement remains and the way people in the past used the natural environment and manipulated it to their advantage. He was instrumental in helping us to study first and foremost the animal and plant remains that archaeology uncovers. Furthermore, he set up and continued with retrieval techniques that allowed us to go farther with our results due to consistent retrieval methods, especially at Ryurik Gorodishche where he introduced systematic sieving that greatly assisted our analyses. The paper is dedicated with much affection to his memory.

The city of Novgorod the Great, once the controlling centre of Slavonic settlement in north-west Russia, has been the focus of extensive excavation for many decades. Situated on the River Volkhov at its exit from Lake Ilmen and surrounded by mixed boreal and deciduous woodland and seasonally flooded meadowlands, it was well-placed for exploitation of wild fauna and flora. The recovered animal bones are, however, dominated by cattle and other domesticates, typical of most medieval urban assemblages in Europe. Combined evidence from bones, birch-bark documents and other finds, however, also reveal the importance of wild fauna to the inhabitants. Bones of fish are the most frequent of the recovered wild fauna but very few were retrieved by the standard hand collection; a limited sieving programme illustrates the very large number present in the deposits. The main fish taxa are cyprinids, pike and zander while documents, concerned with tribute, mention salmonids and sturgeon, rare in the excavated remains (Brisbane, Maltby, 2002). The importance of fishing to the inhabitants is also demonstrated by the numerous finds of fishing equipment (Rybina, 2007). Meat from wild mammals contributed little bulk to the diet, hare, beaver and elk being the most frequently found. Physical remains of fur bearing mammals in the town deposits are very few, despite its known status as an important international trading exchange (Martin, 1986). Most would have arrived from the hunting grounds to the north as prepared pelts without bones. The few remains include bear claws and bones of smaller animals such as squirrel, marten, otter, fox and beaver. Evidence for hunting equipment was also found. Elk antler was also heavily exploited to manufacture combs and other objects (Smirnova, 2005).

The wild bird assemblage is dominated by various species of ducks. Other waterfowl were utilised as well as large game birds such as capercaillie and black grouse. Birds of prey are also present and other remains such as jackdaws reveal the local bird life in town (Hamilton-Dyer et al., 2002).

The exploitation of wild species within Novgorod was partly dependent on whether there were suitable habitats within its hinterland and beyond. The paper therefore incorporates a discussion of the character of the local forest and its composition based on pollen and other evidence. Then, by proposing simulation models of the changing forest from around AD 800 to the 16th century, it suggests how different tree species were affected by both natural and anthropogenic factors and whether this had consequences for wildlife. The paper also discusses the benefits of developing a multi-disciplinary approach comparing urban assemblages with contemporary sites to understand more fully the exploitation of wild species in towns.

Novgorod is an archaeologically well-preserved medieval city, built almost entirely of wood, which exploited its forests and their content extensively. Our paper integrates a wide range of environmental evidence to investigate the impact the city’s inhabitants had on its extensive territory. It includes up to date tables of wild species of mammals, birds and fish found within the archaeological assemblages.

Zooarchaeologists are used to examining changes in diet — and explaining this due to people adapting to changes in wild and domesticate resources, as well as cultural changes (e.g. Maltby et al., 2019). Likewise historians have known and written about the large numbers of furs, pelts and other natural resources taken from the forests of northern Russia (e.g. Martin, 1986). But in our paper we attempt to go further by examining subtle variations within and between different parts of a territory, witnessing changes over time due to stress and habitat degradation, as well as specific anthropogenic impacts on those habitats. Documentary, environmental and zooarchaeological evidence are combined, for example to monitor and account for the decline in beavers both in Novgorod and Minino in the 13th century. We postulate that ecological variations in rivers and lakes in the Novgorod lands could account for variations in the types of fish exploited at different settlements. We also demonstrate that some highly prized species of imported fish, as indicated in the birch-bark documents, were probably extremely rare additions to the diet of most Novgorodians. However, we still need to develop our understanding of the history of the forests, river and lakes of Novgorod in greater detail and the paper suggests some ways that this may be done in the future.

Source: Manual