A guide to the New East

Digging deeper

Life lessons from an archaeological summer camp

The prospect of finding buried treasure is something a child can only dream of. Yet each summer, many Russian kids set out on a real treasure hunt at one of the numerous archaeological camps in the countryside. Tatyana Borodina went on her first archaeological field trip aged 16 at a camp situated in a village called Mukhino in the Lipetsk region, which she revisited 15 years later as photographer. Her series Wild shows the children not only digging for ancient relics but involved in a far greater quest of self-discovery. 

“The photos were taken in various parts of Russia's Central Black Earth region, first inhabited by the Scythian and Sarmatian tribes, and later the Slavic. There are dozens of archaeological camps scattered around Russia. Each summer a camp is set up near an allocated site of excavation, sometimes in a different place each year. A team of archaeologists prepare the space with a kitchen, tents, gazeboes, put up bridges across the water and generally make it into a whole new world of adventure,” Borodina says. 

The day is broken up into morning excavations followed by an afternoon of recreational activities when kids can read, play guitar or sports, or just sunbathe. “The actual excavation is rather fun”, Borodina recalls. “The supervisor teaches you how to remove the different layers of earth and how to hold a shovel. Findings can be really varied. During one children’s expedition they unearthed a rare Scythian burial adorned with gold lead and glass beads.” For Borodina the excavations were just as memorable for the opportunity “to exchange word games, jokes and songs.”

Every day will typically end with the children gathering around a bonfire. Periodically, the camp will host evening talent competitions. Borodina was happy to discover that everyday life at the camp had not changed since her childhood, and despite the fact that the kids now have a generator they can charge their phones with, they are “still occupied with making bonfires around which they spend much of their evenings, washing in the river, playing cards, football or volleyball, making friends and falling in love for the first time.”

Though archaeology involves looking back to the past, the camp also encourages Russia’s youth to prepare for their futures. By teaching them how to cook, the children return to their respective cities with something of more value than anything they might have found beaneath the ground. “By doing the tasks set for them on their own for the first time, they grow up and learn a lot about themselves,” Borodina reflects. 

Besides acquiring new skills, the camp also provides the opportunity for a city-kid to come of age among nature: “To be able to walk barefoot in the fields, wear very little, pick berries and roll around on the grass, drink water from the same cup, sing and stargaze together is a very special thing,” the photographer adds.  

Text: Liza Premiyak
Image: Tatyana Borodina 

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