What were the Greeks doing so far to the east? Taganrog was the outpost of Greek settlement furthest away from the ancestral Greek homeland in the furthermost northern Black Sea region. The Greeks had begun colonizing this area in the second half of the 7th century BC. They had advanced as far as the mouths of the Don and Myus Rivers on the shores of the Sea of Azov. About ten kilometers west of the present-day mouth of the Don, traces of an early Greek settlement have been found. At that time, the adjacent steppes and the Don delta were already settled; by the late Bronze Age, a system of settlements had arisen that may have been used temporarily by half-settled nomads. Taganrog was a trading post with local and Greek population; it seems to have lived on into the Middle Ages, though evidence of this is still lacking. The reason is obvious: the Don delta was always an attractive area for settlement, being in a favorable transportation location and having rich stocks of fish.
But one of the crucial questions for research was why no city developed here of the kind found everywhere else that the Greeks colonized. The problem cannot have been a lack of means of livelihood. Were there political reasons for the exception? Did nomadic peoples prevent the formation of a city? Or did Crimean or Tatan Greeks want to prevent competition?
Archaeologists and geo-scientists worked hand in hand to trace the connection between the developments in the natural surroundings and in culture in the late Bronze and early Iron Age. As in the Land of Seven Rivers, here too the landscape is characterized by huge kurgans.
Settled People and Nomads
For archaeology, the kurgans are cultural monuments. Archaeologists make cuts into them and examine the artifacts found in them to learn about the burial rites of the builders. The geo-scientists view the kurgans’ arrangement in the landscape and the meaning that might be behind it. The basic issue bringing the two disciplines together was how people lived in the early civilization. What did the landscape around Taganrog look like before and during Greek colonization?
Pollen is durable, even in inhospitable environments. If it must, it can survive thousands of years. So it is especially well suited to provide information on the vegetation of the past, the way the landscape was used, and the forms of agriculture. Plant matter – along with pollen, also “large botanic remnants” like parts of seeds and fruits – was extracted from sediment layers in selected spots. The geo-scientists know where the best “archives” can be expected: former river channels and the feet of mountain slopes are promising. The inspection of the smallest particles joined the view from great elevation. Aerial photography was another method for reconstructing the landscape around Taganrog and its temporal changes in the last 2000 years and for answering the essential research questions: How did the conditions of the natural space influence the cultural development of the nomads and settled groups, how did they shape the landscape, and was there climate change?