Excavations Uncover History and Questions in Central Kiev

Every day Kiev’s busy streets are flooded with average Ukrainians rushing to work, researchers with books and papers under their arms entering the Parliamentary Library, and construction teams erecting another modern structure, yet blocks away experts from the Institute of Archaeology of Ukraine’s National Academy of Sciences unearth another piece of ancient history.

In early June, excavators found a 12th century Christian burial site blocks away from the Parliamentary Library. The site contains the remains of people once living in the Podil neighbourhood of Kiev. The Podil area is the birthplace of the city’s trade, commerce, and industry and is a cornucopia of historical landmarks and archaeological discoveries. A full examination concluded that the graves are ancient Christian burials of ordinary Podil inhabitants buried in wooden coffins. The area was dominated by craftsmen in the 12th century. The latest burial ground reveals bodies, ensconced in wooden coffin, facing east and south. The angle of the bodies raises historical questions, as traditionally people of that century were buried with their heads pointing west.

The location of the Podil burial site is unusual as ancient cemeteries are usually located on the outskirts of towns. The central Kiev location suggests that this burial ground marks the outer boundary of the community in the 12th century and may be the edge of an ancient Rus settlement. To date, the remains of a church situated near these graves have not been located, and may never be found as contemporary builders often destroy what they find in the rubble during new construction. If a church is found, scholars will be able to draw a more accurate map of ancient Podil.

Ukrainian excavations are an annual affair. Amidst the Podil region of Kiev, archeologists work three to four sites each year. Finds are few and far between which makes the discovery of the burial site so rewarding. Rain has set the digging project back in recent weeks, but with spades and shovels in hand, experts are eager to find what else lies below the surface of Kiev.