Small finds in metal and mural paintings from a Roman grave

The Ukrainian archaeological heritage bears the marks of a turbulent history. The collaborative project that we are submitting here provides one example among many: a monumental Kurgan tomb, excavated in Kerch in the 1950’s by archaeologists from the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow. This tomb contained many precious small finds in metall, which are currently in the collections at Kiev. The excavation report (including photographic documentation) is archived at the Moscow Institute of Archaeology.

The Roman period tomb was excavated in 1954 under the direction of archaeologist V. A. Blavatskij. It consisted of a burial chamber, an antechamber and a dromos. This imposing structure must have been for elite members of the Cimmerian Bosporus Kingdom. The monument’s vaulted ceiling has not been preserved and some parts have been completely levelled. However, some of the remaining walls still have plaster fragments adhering upon which can be seen painting. The antechamber contained a painted niche, which had been sealed, but has suffered from looting in the past. The faces of the limestone blocks lining the dromos show signs of having been plastered and painted, though some of the roughly squared faces lack paint. The funerary monument housed many poorly preserved burials in which only the small finds in metal have survived. Among the small finds are a combat panoply, harness elements, rings, as well as embossed gold appliqués and thin gold sheets deposited at Kiev. The archaeologist in charge of the excavation included other objects in the inventory such as glass objects and beads, and pottery. The presence of third century CE coins in the burials provided proof of the chronological period.

The examination of the tomb’s outer walls revealed the presence of painted plaster on the stone blocks, indicating the re-utilisation of many architectural elements from an earlier painted tomb. The reconstruction of the painted mural proposed in 1960 (in the magazine "Soviet Archaeology") shows a sequence with imitation pilasters alternating with panels in opus sectile, a style of decoration visible among several painted tombs in Panticapaion.

The Swiss expertise will be used to complete the understanding of the Ukrainian small finds in metal from the tomb. The study of antique painted murals and the analysis of small finds in funeral contexts are among the skills specifically developed at the Institute of Archaeology and Sciences of Antiquity at the University of Lausanne. The prospect of collaboration with one of the most prestigious museums in the Ukraine is a continuation of an already established approach of scientific partnership with the Ukraine - a country on the north-eastern shore of the Black Sea with the archaeological vestiges of many cities, such as Olbia, Tyra or Nikonion, founded during the Greco-Roman Antiquity.

The active neutrality practised by Switzerland makes it possible to reunite the finds from this funerary ensemble (which until now has largely been ignored and only partially studied) in an unprecedented scientific contribution and thus valorising the collections of the Museum of the Historical Treasures of Ukraine.


Dr. Pascal Burgunder, University of Lausanne

Mrs. Ievgeniia Velychko, Museum of historical treasures of Ukraine