On the Threshold of the Great Discovery: Archaeologists Begin Excavations of the Legendary Capital of the Khazar Khaganate

Район исследовния. Фото 1
Фото предоставлено Дамиром Соловьёвым

Members of the Russian Geographical Society will carry out excavations that could lead to a sensational discovery. The archaeologists are planning to establish the location of the capital of the Khazar Khaganate - the ancient city of Atil. If the preliminary work was carried out correctly, then in the coming decades, the researchers will fill out one of the most poorly studied pages of the history of the Russian state at the stage of its formation.

Archaeological work starts in July in the Astrakhan Oblast, in the village of Semibugry, in the Volga River Delta. Here, since the middle of the 20th century, Lev Gumilyov once searched for the lost capital. He devoted 10 years to research, but all was unsuccessful. Then he suggested that Khazaria suffered the fate of Atlantis and we would never be able to find it. Other scientists believed that Atil was destroyed by Prince Svyatoslav in the middle of the 10th century.


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Фото предоставлено Дамиром Соловьёвым

In recent years, many scholars have suggested that the city of Atil may be the ancient settlement of Samosdelka. But here, on the territory of a fairly large settlement of the early Middle Ages, materials of Saltovo-Mayaki culture, inherent to the Khazar Khaganate, were not found.

However, during field work in 2019-2020, a research group of archaeologists from the scientific organization "Archeocenter", the Astrakhan Museum-Reserve of Local History, the Astrakhan branch of the Russian Geographical Society and the Shirshov Institute of Oceanology made a breakthrough - in the vicinity of the village of Semibugry, the expeditionary team discovered a large settlement monument with an area of ​​about 150 hectares, which corresponds to the large metropolitan city of that time.


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In 2017, in the Astrakhan branch of the RGS, the Archeology and Ethnography section, initiated the project “In the footsteps of L.N. Gumilyov”, the purpose of which was to reconsider the route of the archaeological expedition of the scientist in the Astrakhan Oblast, since his work on the search for Khazaria left a lot of questions. An attempt to verify information on the discovery of ceramics led a group of researchers to the village of Semibugry.

The field work was preceded by an assessment of the landscape and climate situation for the era of the early Middle Ages. The archaeologists also took advantage of a small hint that Lev Gumilyov left in his book "Discovering Khazaria." As a result of this, the conditional “Khazar corridor” was localized in the Volga delta, where the Khazar monuments were assumed to be.

Most importantly, the monument presents classic materials of the Khazar period. The researchers found multiple fragments of ceramic dishes characteristic of Saltovo-Mayaki culture; fragments of building bricks, ceramic slags and rejects, indicating ceramic production on the monument. The finds were dated by numismatic materials of the 8th century. During local excavation, metal items were also found that are directly related to Kievan Rus from the time of Svyatoslav.


Лировидная пряжка Киевской Руси
Лировидная пряжка Киевской Руси; фото предоставлено Дамиром Соловьёвым

The researchers have even discovered the alleged neighborhood of the city - the smallest settlements. The archaeologists have unearthed two barrows that may be related to Khazaria and belong to the ruling elite of the Khaganate. All this made it possible, as never before, to come close to solving a historical problem.

This year, the second field season to search for the ancient city will be attended by full members of the Astrakhan branch of the Russian Geographical Society, employees of the Astrakhan Museum-Reserve, students and regular participants in expeditions, as well as volunteers. Studies will be held at the burial site and in the settlement zone of the monument found in 2019-2020.


Куфический серебрянный дирхем арабского халифата конец 8-го века отчеканен в колонии в Тунисе
Куфический серебряный дирхем арабского халифата конец 8-го века отчеканен в колонии в Тунисе; Фото предоставлено Дамиром Соловьёвым

The organizers called the project "Discovering Khazaria – 21st Century" and are planing to successfully complete the once begun work of Lev Gumilyov. All the work of the expedition will be covered on the Instagram account @astrakhan_archaeology and on the website of the RGS.

Materials provided by Damir Solovyov,

head of Archeology and Ethnography department of the RGS branch in Astrakhan