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Charred turnip dinner from 400 years ago throws new light on conquest of Siberia

By The Siberian Times reporter
14 February 2017

Intriguing finds from archeological excavations in old garrison town of Tara, a key historic staging post to the east.

'It looks like a huge puzzle of Siberian city life at this time, which we have just started to gather.' Picture: Maria Chernaya

The turnip, pictured here, was ready for cooking in a large clay pot when the log house caught fire and was quickly destroyed in flames, say archeologists.

Yet the meal was preserved, and nearby in an excavation of historical importance concerning Siberia's development were found pieces of Venetian glassware, along with the remains of women's knitted stockings and footwear.

Tara - in Omsk region - is significant because it was one of the earliest settlements by Russians as they went eastward, founded in 1594 by Prince Andrey Eletsky. 

Pot with turnip


Turnip

Big clay pot ('korchaga'), rounded with red, was standing next to the stove. Pieces of turnip. Pictures: Sergey Tataurov

The remains of the turnip dinner come from around this time, and the archeological explorations now underway represent the chance to understand the early pioneers, among them political and also criminal exiles, who began the modern development of Siberia. 

Professor Maria Chernaya said: 'One of the interesting finds of this season was indeed the turnip. We were excavating a big log house (izba), which burned down in the past and was left exactly as it was. 

Excavations in the log house


Log house

'The thickness of the cultural layer is 3 - 4 metres and it is very rich in finds (which) belong to the 16th to 18th centuries.' Pictures: Maria Chernaya

'The fire was quite big. Near the stove was a big clay pot, called 'korchaga' in Russian. It was used not for cooking, but for storing food. So there was a turnip, and it was standing near the stove. When the fire began, the temperature was so high that the turnip 'baked' inside this pot. 

'When we started to excavate the pot, we saw that something was inside. Sadly the picture doesn't portray this. The vegetable was very fragile, but we saw that it had kept the shape of a turnip. 

Professor Maria Chernaya

Professor Maria Chernaya (right) at the excavation of Tara. Picture: Maria Chernaya

'Of course when we tried to take it from the pot, it lost its shape. Yet we managed to do the analysis and confirmed it was a turnip. But also we found out that the turnip had been kept from autumn, for several months, so it was part of the winter stocks. This means the house burned down in winter or spring.'

It seems surprising that so much can be learned from a charred turnip around 400 years old.

Venetian glass

Pieces of glassware, which was made by Venetian technology somewhere in Germany or the modern Czech Republic. Picture: Sergey Tataurov

But it is one of many intriguing finds, with more expected, said Professor Chernaya,  head of the Laboratory of archaeological and ethnographical research in Western Siberia at Tomsk State University.

'Among other interesting finds are pieces of glassware, which was made by Venetian technology somewhere in Germany or the modern Czech Republic, and then exported to Russia. 

'This shows that Tara was not some remote province. Tara was a military town, and for a long time it was standing on the border with steppe, protecting the territories occupied by Russians.

Vallet


Pot wrapped in birch bark

Leather wallet. Clay pot wrapped in the birch bark. Pictures: Maria Chernaya

'That is why the largest part of the population of the city was military people. Of course they also had households, were involved in agriculture, crafts, hunting and trading.'The development of Tara was earlier than any modern Siberian city. 

'Their households were very strong,' she said. 'Judging by the finds, they had quite good houses. They (possessed) expensive imported things. The common economic level in the city was higher than in most central Russian towns.'

The people here were not serfs, she said. 

Women stockings

Remains of women's knitted stockings. Picture: Sergey Tataurov

'The percentage of exiles was not higher than 10, so we cannot say that the main part of Russians in Siberia were criminals,' according to her.

'Besides, many of the exiles were not criminals actually. They were political exiles, educated people, many of them also remained in Siberia. Russians came not to conquer Siberia, they came to develop it and stay here forever.

'This summer we uncovered a log construction. We suppose that these were the fortifications - a wall and tower. We will continue the research and if we are right we can finally make the plan of (old Tara) city and tie it to the area.' 

Tara - old picture


Modern Tara


Map

Tara - in Omsk region - is significant because it was one of the earliest settlements by Russians as they went eastward, founded in 1594 by Prince Andrey Eletsky. Pictures: Tomsk State University, Omsk Photo, The Siberian Times

She said: 'These are pioneering works for city archaeology in Siberia. 

'The scale of excavations is very big. The thickness of the cultural layer is 3 - 4 metres and it is very rich in finds (which) belong to the 16th to 18th centuries. It looks like a huge puzzle of Siberian city life at this time, which we have just started to gather.' 

The laboratory of archaeological and ethnographical research in Western Siberia joins scientists from Tomsk State University, Omsk State University, and the Omsk department of the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography, Siberian Branch of Russian Academy of Sciences (headed by Dr Sergey Tataurov). 

First map of Tara made by Semyon Remezov and published in 1700. Picture: Chronologia.org

Old map of Tara

Comments (2)

Very interesting article - we can all learn a lot from the past - an sometimes make perspectives to current times. Do not forget that at the same time (1600-1700 century) Western Europe attacked Arfica, Americas and Asia and started the criminal slave trade which made a foundation to their current economy. .
William McLean, Copenhagen, Denmark
17/02/2017 22:01
2
1
How fascinating. I certainly hope to hear more as further updates become available.
Tonya Durst, California, USA
15/02/2017 00:39
6
0
1

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