Ukrainian soldiers discovered a trove of artifacts while digging ditches in anticipation of a Russian strike in the port city Odessa, the Ukrainian military announced last week.
Members of the Ukrainian 126th Territorial Defense unearthed amphorae, or ancient containers used to store and transport liquid and dry goods, according to Heritage Daily, which first reported the news. The tall, bottle-necked shape was common in Ancient Greek, Roman, and Byzantine pottery, however the earliest examples of the form date to the Neolithic period.
Soldiers found the amphorae while preparing Odessa, Ukraine’s third most populous city and a strategically significant seaport on the southwestern coast, for further aggression by Russia. The containers date from between the 3rd and 4th centuries B.C., when Odessa was a Roman settlement called Odessus.
Documentation of the archaeological site is currently impossible due to Russia’s military campaign to overtake the city, however images shared by the 126th Territorial Defense show its members transporting the artifacts, as well as several fragments of ceramics, to the Odessa Archaeological Museum for preservation.
Cultural heritage across Ukraine has been a casualty of Russia’s invasion, which began February 24. UNESCO has estimated at least 127 culturally important sites in the besieged country have been damaged, including 54 religious buildings, 15 monuments, and 11 museums. The Kuindzhi Art Museum and the Local History Museum in the town of Ivankiv, home to dozens of paintings by famed Ukrainian folk artist Maria Prymachenko, were among those destroyed early on in the conflict. The United Nations monitoring body has called on protection for the country’s archaeological property, though Russia’s intense bombardment and the ongoing refugee crisis have impeded preservation efforts.
After several months of war, reports of deliberate attacks on Ukrainian culture have become common. On May 7, Russian shelling destroyed a museum dedicated to the 18th-century philosopher and poet Hryhoriy Skovoroda, one of the country’s most beloved literary luminaries. The museum was located in the small, non-militarized village of Skovorodynivka, outside the city of Kharkiv.
Ukrainian officials said more than 2,000 artworks have been looted from museums in Mariupol, a port city hammered for weeks by Russian shelling. Russian troops reportedly stole several painting masterpieces, as well as ancient icons, the Gospel of 1811 from the Venetian printing house for the Greeks of Mariupol, and more than 200 medals from the Museum of Medallion Art Harabet.
The mayor of the city of Melitopol has reported that a prized collection of gold artifacts more than 2,300 years old was stolen from the cellar of the local history museum. The gold items originated from the Scythians, a nomadic people who founded a powerful empire centered in the Crimean Peninsula. Their empire survived from about the 7th century B.C. to the 3rd century B.C.
Leila Ibrahimova, the director of the Melitopol Museum of Local History, told the New York Times the Scythian artifacts were “priceless.”
“Each day of this war, the Russian army does something that leaves you speechless,” Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a statement. “Targeted attacks on museums—this wouldn’t cross even a terrorist’s mind. But this is the army that’s waging war on us.”