2021 Report

Olbia Excavation Report 2021

Alfred Twardecki



The mission of the Polish Archaeological Mission Olbia, the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Pontic Olbia in current season lasted since July 5 until August 14, 2021. On July 5-11, preparatory research was carried out (collection of equipment transported from Poland, pitching a tent, checking the equipment before use, preparing facilities and stations for laboratory work), work on the trench lasted since July 12 until August 3, documentation work since July 18 until August 14. 

Archaeological research conducted in the R-23 trench in the Roman citadel in Olbia was a continuation of the excavations in years 2016-2018. Their aim was to verify the existing findings regarding the function, dating and cultural affiliation of the area. As a result of the works, the existing trench (sq. 210, 211, 230, 231, 150, 251) was enlarged by four new squares, adjacent to the existing trench from the south and south-east (sq. 252, 270, 271, 272, Fig. 1 and 2). These squares were chosen not accidentally: aerial photographs of the site taken after the fire of the vegetation cover in 2017 clearly show the outline of buildings on a rectangular plan, whose supposed walls run at an angle similar to the construction remains documented in the "old trench" (north-west – south-east, fig. 3).

The decision to extend the excavation to the south-east was made after detailed inquiries conducted in previous years, especially in the first half of 2021 and a series of consultations with Dr. Hab. Alla Bujskikh and Ukrainian and Polish excavation managers. Particularly helpful here were excavation reports from nearby excavations and a detailed review of photographic documentation made by a drone in previous years. 

At this point, it should also be added that the analysis of the results of excavations carried out in 2021 was largely supported by detailed queries of both manuscripts of excavation reports from neighboring excavations, photocopies of which were obtained during previous years of study work in Olbia, as well as queries of monuments from these excavations located in the warehouses of the Olbia Historical and Archaeological Reserve. This work, carried out in the first half of 2021, proved to be extremely helpful in planning the campaign and analysing its results. 


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Fig. 1. The excavation area at the end of the 2021 campaign against the background of the archaeological grid of the site.

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Fig. 2. Orthophotographic plan of excavation R 23. As of the end of the 2021 campaign. 

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Fig. 3 Photograph from 2017 showing traces of a potential rectangular structure located partly in the south-eastern corner of trench R 23.

Composition of the mission

The mission in 2021 included: Dr. Alfred Twardecki (IAE PAN, head of the mission from the Polish side, Greek inscriptions), Dr. Alla Bujskikh (IA NANU, head of the mission from the Ukrainian side, Greek ceramics), Dr. Piotr Jaworski (WA UW, field director from the Polish side, ancient coins), Dr. Maria Novichenkowa (IA NANU, firld director from the Ukrainian side, metal artefacts). In addition, the team included people responsible for the documentation of monuments: Diana Święcka (head of the documentation team), Sylwia Groń (drawer), Ryszard Mieszek (drawer), Magdalena Pelc (drawer). Ms. Magdalena Antos was responsible for the geodetic works. On the Ukrainian side, the Polish mission was supported by Ukrainian archaeologists: Dr. Sergei Didenko (National Museum of History of Ukraine, late antique ceramics), Olga Puklina (National Museum of History of Ukraine, antique glass). 

Students and employees of the following Ukrainian universities took part in the work on the excavation, taking their summer internships:

Group from the Pedagogical University of Berdyansk (Ukraine, 24.07-06.08.2021): dr hab. Valentina Papanova (head of practice), Oleksii Korotkii (head of the group), students: Andrii Bajrak, Anastasia Bondarenko, Mikola Kirov, Valery Grebennikov, Yuri Krasnikov, Mikita Kirov, Afina Kosogor, Anastasia Lukyanchenko, Andrii Matrosov, Rostislav Perezventsev, Ivan Revin, Ganna Rizhova, Vasilisa Sokolova, Olga Kharoman, Dmitry Shevchuk, volunteers of the Archaeological Berdian Society "Olviya-Argo": Oleksandr Belov, Sergii Bondarenko, Sergii Zator, Mykola Ivashin, Arman Ildiz, Svitlana Lyashko, Pavlo Makhno, Andrii Tokovenko, Andrii Shcherbin.

Group from Ivan Franko Lviv University, dr hab. Anastasia Baukova (head of practice), students: Oleksandra Slobodyanuk, Andrii Tantsyura, Alina Masyuk, Rostislav Motika, Bogdan Melnichuk, Darina Koniv, Roksolana Dovgulich, Darina Dobrovolskaya, Bogdan Veremenko, Valerii Len; volunteers: katerina Nalezhita, Anna Shvyd, Vladislav Muntyan, Pavlo Lutsik, Rostislav Pelekh, Yuri Gashkiv, Roman Pidpierigora, Vitalia Misak, Yaroslav Belii, Roman Kurch, Andrii Krilov, Anastasiya Nazarenko, Kateryna Demyanenko

Luhansk, Police School: Andrei Martynov (head of practice), Artem Yaroshenko (group leader), students: Anton Tyagnyryadno, Ekaterina Tyagnyryadno, Ekaterina Sokirko, Yevgeniya Yakuba, Aleksandr Arlanov, Darya Shalaikina, Karina Chuguenko, Kirill Chmyr, Dmitrii Fedoruk, Danil Kryshtopa, Oleg Gusinskii, Oleg Martynov, Maksim Perepelitsa, Darya Svishcheva, Tatyana Khamchich, Nadezhda Dobrokhotova, Ilya Danchenko, Vladimir Bykov, Anastasiya Yaroshenko, Mariya Tseplyaeva

Volunteer from Kiev: Mikhail Shvartsev.


In the squares explored this year, it was possible to remove humus and backfill layers, as well as partly stone debris (sq. 252, 271, 272), lying above the youngest level of use of the site in antiquity, thus stratigraphically merging the entire surface of the excavation, currently 250 m(Fig. 4). As a result of the realized research, it was found that this uncovered area is part of a larger residential and production complex, dated per analogy on the basis of movable finds, to the 4th - beginning of the 5th century AD (Twardecki, Bujskich, 2021). Located in the northern ("old") part of the excavation, the utility pits explored this year (pit 5, 6, 7) were filled with earth-stone backfill containing bone and ceramic material. In sq. 270 was discovered the southern edge of the "platform" (courtyard?), the surface of which is covered with clayey, compacted earth, occupying a large part of the uncovered in previous seasons squares 230 and 250 (Fig. 5). To the south of the aforementioned boundary of the "platform" an accumulation of a similar nature to that lying north of it was observed (bone workshop). Like there, the sediment layers abounded in bone and late antique ceramic material. On the basis of finds, among others bone crest (Fig. 6), belt buckle, barbaric, cast imitation of the Roman denarius, it has been found that this accumulation, like the analogous one located north of the "platform", may be related to the functioning of the Chernikhiv culture in the studied area.

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Figure 4. General view of the stone debris on the newly exposed squares.

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Fig. 5 Schematic range of the field

Fig. 6 Bone crest (Chernikhiv culture), marker of cultural affiliation of Olbia inhabitants in the studied period, end of the third century.


It was established that the stone debris located in sq. 252, 271 and 272, which have been partially documented and removed, lie on the remains of a building complex surrounded on the west and east by a usable level made of compacted clay (Fig. 7). In sq. 252 Two corners of rooms were uncovered, limited by the remains of foundations, whose usable level was lined with a large amount of ceramic crushed stone (Fig. 8). Also in this part of the trench, as in sq. 271 and 272, between the concentrations of stone rubble there were finds typical for the material heritage of the Chernikhiv culture, such as a pair of bone skates, fragments of late Roman glassware, or fragments of economic ceramics (m.in. resource vessel, amphorae, jugs, bowls).

Unfortunately, the two-day weather breakdown in the last days of work on the trench thwarted the plans and prevented the complete removal of the debris.

The last two days of work on the trench were devoted to its protection for the winter: the entire surface of the trench was covered with plastic sheets and covered with a layer of earth. (Fig. 9)

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Fig. 7 Presumed location of two rooms under partially removed stone debris on newly exposed squares.

Fig. 8 A presumed room with a floor lined with ceramic crushed stone. 

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Fig. 9 Protective work on the trench after the end of the season. 

Separate monuments (selected categories)


Amphorae (imports, markers for dating the site – an example selection of strokes)

Material from cleaning the surface of squares 210, 211, 230, 231, 250, 251). (j. p.56)


Total number of fragments: 518 fragments.

indefinable - 476 fragments.

definable - 42 fragments:



Monakh, Amphorae of Chios type III (wide-necked) - 2 fr. Date - last quarter 6th - third quarter of the 5th century. B.C.

Type Shelov A - 1 fr. Place of production - Pontic Heraclea. Date - second quarter - end of the 1st century B.C.

Type Zeest 72 - 1 fr. Place of manufacture - Bosporus. Date – end of the 2nd - half of the 3rd century. B.C.

Type Zeest 75 - 2 fr Place of manufacture - Bosporus. Date - end of the 2nd - half of the 3rd century. B.C.

Type Zeest 76 - 1 fr. Place of manufacture - Bosporus. Date - end of the 2nd - half of the 3rd century. B.C.

Typ Zeest 100 - 1 fr. Place of production - Sinope. Date - the second half of 4th - the beginning of the 5th century. B.C.

Type Abramov, burial Charax 33 - 1 fr. Place of production - Northern Black Sea region (Crimean Peninsula). Date - the second half of 4th - the beginning of the 5th century. B.C.


Local ceramics

(Markers of cultural affiliation of Olbia inhabitants in the studied period - summary)


Late antique ceramics of the R-23 site (squares 210, 211, 230, 231, 252, 270, 271, 272), in addition to amphorae and fragments of red-watered tableware, includes gray-clay ceramics of the Chernikhiv type, which is present in all captured stratigraphic contexts.

Grey-clay pottery found in large quantities on the R-23 trench finds analogies in the monuments of the Chernikhiv culture - Sântana de Mureș, commonly present in the territories of the forest-steppe of Ukraine, the north-western region of the Black Sea, Moldova and Romania and is dated to the 3rd - early 5th century. 

Forms derived from the archaeological contexts of the R-23 site are characteristic of phases III – V of the chronology of the Chernikhiv Culture, i.e. for the period of the second quarter of the fourth – the end of the thirties of the fifth century. 




During excavations at the P-23 site in 2021, fragments of glass vessels from the 1st-4th centuries made of transparent glass, mold-blown and free-blown, were discovered.

The technique of mold-blowing is represented by a fragment of a vessel with a square bottom made of transparent glass from the 2nd-3rd centuries and a fragment of the chalice body made of transparent, colorless glass with a pattern characteristic of vessels from the fourth century ("honeycomb"). In the northern region of the Black Sea, whole forms analogous to the finds come from closed Crimean complexes of the Ozernoye - Inkerman type, where these calyxes are chronological markers of phase III (second-third quarter of the fourth century) cemeteries in central and south-western Crimea from the 3rd-4th centuries. Such vessels are also known in Panticapaeum, Khersonesus, Kharax.

The free-blow technique was identified in the case of 38 fragments of tableware - rims, handles, feet and jug handle. 

Characteristic for objects of the 4th century are also fragments of vessels made of transparent olive-green shade glass. From the same period come fragments of the body of the jug with soldered edges of transparent light-green glass.

A rare feature is a fragment of the bottom of a jug made of transparent green glass with an annular base, decorated with 4 diagonal trailing. A jug with a similar base from the middle to the end of the 4th century is located in the Roman necropolis of Mayen (Germany) and belongs to the products of Western workshops.

Fragments of windowpanes were also discovered – but in this case it is difficult to date precisely.


(Chronological and cultural markers of the site, based on a study by Dr. Piotr Jaworski)


In the 2021 season, during archaeological research in the so-called Roman Citadel in Olbia, carried out within the R 23 trench, a total of 44 coins were discovered. The relatively large number of numismatic finds compared to the previous season 2018 (8 finds), similar to the number of coins obtained in the first research season in 2016 (47 finds), results from the fact that the excavation area has been significantly expanded and exploration has begun in the area of four new squares (252, 270, 271, 272).

In terms of provenance in numismatic material, three basic groups of finds can be distinguished: 


  1. Coins of the local Olbian Mint
  2. Silver and bronze Roman and Roman-provincial coins 
  3. Barbaric imitations of the Roman denarii 


Olbian coins, dating from the fifth century BC–235 AD, constitute the largest group of numismatic finds from the 2021 season (38 copies). Two Demeter/kneeling archer coins previously not found in the numismatic material from trench R 23 are dated to the last quarter of the fourth century.


The coins of the Hellenistic period are dominated by Borysthenes/bow coins minted in the 1st half of the third century BC (3 finds). Two specimens discovered in 2021 are dated to the second and first centuries BC. The issues of the 2nd half of the first century AD and the 1st quarter of the second century AD are represented by 9 coins. In this group, most copies were provided with face value countermarks in the 70s of the second century, and some were fragmented in the following decades (see notes below). The last stage of the minting of Olbia is represented by two bronze provincial coins minted during the reign of the Severans, bearing on the obverse images of Roman emperors: Caracalla and Alexander Severus (Fig. 10; inv. no. O/2021/R23/52).

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Figs. 10. Olbia, provincial bronze coin of Alexander Severus, 222–235 CE


During archaeological research conducted in 2021, five coins representing foreign minting, mainly Roman-provincial, but also one silver coin from the province of Cappadocia were discovered in trench R 23. Particularly noteworthy is the Roman sesterce of Antoninus Pius with the depiction of Fides exercitus holding military banners, with a clear propaganda message addressed to the Roman army (Fig. 11; inv. no. O/2021/R23/39). This coin can be considered as a testimony to the stationing of the Roman garrison in the Citadel in Olbia, as well as the drachma of Caesarea of Cappadocia (Fig. 12; inv. no. O/2021/R23/128), probably brought to Olbia by a vexillatio soldier of one  of the legions taking part in military campaigns against the Parthians, or previously stationed in Cappadocia or in one of the Roman forts located along the coast of Colchis, in which the silver coins of Caesarea were, next to Roman denarii, the basic money with which payments to the Roman army were made.

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Figs. 11. Rome, sesterce Antoninus Pius, 155–156 CE


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Figs. 12. Caesarea in Cappadocia, drachma of Caracalla, 204/205 CE


The 2021 excavation season also brought finds of two Roman coins minted during the reign of the Severans: a denarius with the image of Julia Domna (Fig. 13; inv. no. O/2021/R23/123) and the denarius of Caracalla (Fig. 14; inv. no. O/2021/R23/101). The youngest Roman coin from the third century discovered in trench R 23, and probably the youngest find of this type discovered in Olbia, is the depreciated antoninianus of Valerian I, dated to 253–254 CE (Fig. 16; inv. no. O/2021/R23/33).

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Fig. 13. Rome, denarius of Julia Domna, 196–211 CE


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Fig. 14. Rome, denarius of Caracalla, 210–213 CE


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Fig. 15. Rome, antoninianus of Valerian I, 253-254 CE


A valuable monetary find of the 2021 season is a cast imitation of the denarius of Antoninus Pius (Fig. 16; inv. no. O/2021/R23/37), probably created in the circle of the Chernikhiv culture. The creation of this copy can be dated by analogy to the fourth century AD.

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 Figs. 16. Chernikhiv culture, cast imitation of the denarius of Antoninus Pius from 148-149 CE, IV century




The vast majority of coins were found in archaeological layers, although it should be noted that some of the coins were mined as a result of regular searching of the heap with the help of a metal detector. For most of the coins found outside the trench, it was possible to assign them to individual stratigraphic units. Of particular interest, due to the potential of dating the archaeological context, are monetary finds from the following stratigraphic units:


  1. Sq. 252, Str.U. 57:
    • Caracalla bronze coin. Olbia, 198–202 CE (Inv. no. O/2021/R23/11)
  2. Sq. 252, Str.U. 60
    • Antoninianus of Valerian I. Rome, 253–254 CE (Inv. no. O/2021/R23/33)
  3. Sq. 270, Str.U. 65:
    • Sesterce of Antoninus Pius. Rome, 155–156 CE (Inv. no. O/2021/R23/39)
    • Barbarian cast imitation of denarius of Antoninus Pius, 4th century AD.  (Inv. no. O/2021/R23/37)
    • Bronze coin. Olbia, 2nd half of the first century AD; countermark: caduceus, A, Δ (Inv. no. O/2021/R23/36)
  4. Sq. 270, Str.U. 66
    • denarius of Julia Domna. Rome, 196–211 CE (Inv. no. O/2021/R23/123)
    • drachma of Caracalla. Caesarea in Cappadocia, 204/205 CE (inv. no. O/2021/R23/128)
    • denarius of Caracalla. Rome, 210–213 CE (Inv. no. O/2021/R23/101)
    • bronze coin. Olbia, 2nd half of the first century AD; countermark: caduceus, A (Inv. no. O/2021/R23/100)
    • bronze coin. Olbia, 1st quarter of the second century AD; countermark: caduceus, H (Inv. no. O/2021/R23/64)
    • 1/2 bronze coin. Olbia, 1st quarter of the second century AD; countermark: caduceus (Inv. no. O/2021/R23/122)
    • Alexander Severus' bronze coin. Olbia, 222–235 CE (Inv. no. O/2021/R23/52)
  5. Sq. 272, Str.U. 62:
    • 2/3 of a bronze coin. Olbia, 1st quarter of the second century AD; countermark: caduceus, B (Inv. no. O/2021/R23/115)
    • 1/3 of bronze coins. Olbia, 1st quarter of the second century AD; countermark: H (Inv. no. O/2021/R23/114).


            The coins mentioned above form a typical set of finds from the last, final phase of the late antique settlement in Olbia, which can be dated to the 4th-1st quarter of the 5th century AD. Structure of monetary mass obtained from layers from this period, rich in historical material associated with the settlement of the Chernikhiv culture, except for bronze coins dated from the fifth century BC to 235 AD,  from the local mint, contains bronze and silver Roman coins dating back to the period of the Antonines and Severans (2nd half of the second and 1st half of the third century AD), with an observable high percentage of the latter dynasty. During the reign of Septimius Severus and his successors, Olbia was incorporated into the Roman Empire as a peripheral city of Lower Moesia. In the discussed period, Olbia's monetary economy was experiencing a serious crisis, the material testimony of which are visible in the local mint several attempts to regulate the denomination structure made in the seventies of the second century and later. Minting reforms consisted mainly in a gradual reduction in the value of individual denominations by applying numerical countermarks to full-fledged items in circulation. In the next stage, probably dated to the 1st half of the third century, in order to obtain particularly desirable small denominations, the procedure of fragmentation of coins into smaller fractions began to be used on a massive scale, which included especially Olbian bronze coins minted in the 2nd half of the first century and at the beginning of the second century, including countermarked copies, but also selected groups of older, perhaps even Hellenistic coins. The question of the end of monetary circulation in Olbia and the degree of monetization of the local economy in the fourth and early fifth centuries remains open. In this context, an extremely important group of finds are cast imitations of Roman denarii discovered in trench R 23, which are in a way a "metric" of the Chernikhiv culture.



The campaign conducted in Pontic Olbia in 2021 confirmed earlier conclusions regarding the shift of the moment of its abandonment by the last inhabitants from the period of the invasion of the Huns (375) to the first half of the fifth century, as well as strong cultural ties of its inhabitants with the Chernikhiv Culture (Twardecki, Bujskich, 2021). Concurrently, the better knowledge of the site and queries acquired during previous campaigns – especially reports from previous excavations carried out in the immediate vicinity – as well as the opportunity to obtain support from trainees from Ukrainian universities to a greater extent than before, allowed us to open 4 new squares and significantly increase our knowledge about the architectural complex that was partially unearthed in 2017-2018. The weather breakdown in the last days of the excavation campaign did not allow complete removal of the stone debris covering the newly discovered rooms, but it can already be said that we are dealing with a large residential and production complex. Nevertheless, only the results of work in subsequent seasons should help to fully understand its original purpose. 



Twardecki A., Bujskich A., 2021, Chernyakov Culture in Olbia Pontica in the light of Polish-Ukrainian excavations 2016-2018, Sprawozdania Archeologiczne, ss. 251-273.