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750-Year-Old City Founded by Genghis Khan’s Grandson Is Unearthed

The excavation site in Saratov (All images courtesy of Dmitriy Kubankin)
The excavation site in Saratov (all images courtesy of Dmitriy Kubankin)

It’s hard to imagine a time when present-day Russia didn’t exist. But along the banks of the Volga River in modern-day Saratov, a reminder is being unearthed.

According to a Live Science report, the ruins of a 750-year-old city called Ukek have been partially uncovered by a team at Saratov Regional Museum of Local Lore. The city was founded in the early 13th century by Batu Khan, a grandson of Genghis Khan and ruler of the Golden Horde Kingdom. But kingdoms come and kingdoms go, and another invading army destroyed Ukek in the 14th century.

Now, the world is getting a peek at what life was like there centuries ago. Archaeologist Dmitriy Kubankin presented his team’s findings at the European Association of Archaeologists’ annual meeting in Istanbul. Discoveries at the site reveal a multicultural city of great wealth, where objects from around the world were used, and where Islam, Christianity, and Shamanism were all practiced.

A bas relief carving found in a Christian temple shows a griffin attacking a lion
A bas relief carving found in a Christian temple shows a griffin attacking a lion

Most of the completed work centers around the Christian quarter of the city and shows that wealthy people also frequented the area despite the fact that Christians were not part of the ruling class. The basements of two Christian temples, rife with artifacts, were discovered. The first was built around 1280 and destroyed in the early 14th century. “It was roofed with tiles and decorated with murals and stone carving[s], both, from the outside and inside,” Kubankin told Live Science, noting a well-preserved bas relief carving showing a lion being clawed by a griffin.

The second temple was built in 1330 and used until 1350 and would have had a similar tile roof and stone walls. Many objects imported from the Byzantine Empire, Egypt, and Iran were also found. “Any church cellar was considered a safe place to store goods in it, therefore, merchants from the nearest neighborhood used to keep (objects) of sale there,” Kubankin explained.

There is still much work to be done, but Kubankin noted it will be difficult to uncover the entire city, as it stretches through several plots of private land. “Nevertheless, digging just in one site may lead to significant discoveries,” he said.

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A fragment of a bone plate, discovered in the Christian quarter of Ukek
A fragment of a bone plate, discovered in the Christian quarter of Ukek
A glass hairpin from China, unearthed in the Christian quarter of Ukek
A glass hairpin from China, unearthed in the Christian quarter of Ukek
Part of a wooden handle shaped like a panther's head, found in a Christian temple in Ukek
Part of a wooden handle shaped like a panther’s head, found in a Christian temple in Ukek
A stonepaste (kashine) plate imported from Egypt or Iran, found in the Christian quarter of Ukek
A stonepaste (kashine) plate imported from Egypt or Iran, found in the Christian quarter of Ukek
A pot found in Ukek
A pot found in Ukek
A storage vessel found in a Christian temple in Ukek
A storage vessel found in a Christian temple in Ukek
Part of a plate imported from Byzantium.
Part of a plate imported from Byzantium.
Fragments of a stonepaste (kashine) bottle imported from Egypt or Iran
Fragments of a stonepaste (kashine) bottle imported from Egypt or Iran
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