The Solovetsky Monastery

The Solovki Archipelago (Solovki)

The Solovki Camp (GULAG)

Volume 2. Solovki GULAG

Part 3. The Solovetsky Monastery & The Solovki Concentration Camp

Solovki and People

"The Solovetsky Islands (Russian: Соловецкие острова), or Solovki (Соловки), are an archipelago located in the Onega Bay of the White Sea, Russia. Area: 347 square kilometers (134 sq mi). "
( The Solovki Encyclopedia )

Not all people like a glacier. It associated with cold and death. The Solovetsky archipelago including the White Sea coast and the territory of contemporary Karelia, was exposed to a congealation twice. The process of retreat of the glacier to the north passed between the first and the second congealation. This caused significant climatic changes.

Solovki and People

Many people's folklore mentions the north to be the country of the dead. But frequently northern areas have another semantic coloring: the country of ancestors, the country of the outcome, the abandoned country, the magic country, the country of the Golden Age.

The advance of a glacier in deed carries cold and death for man. In this case the legends about an empire of dead may only be a reflection of a fact of a nature. So then, how will we remember the time when a glacier recedes? This is the time of growth, development, discoveries and achievements. It suddenly happens that huge empty spaces appear where recently there was only death and hunger. The glacier leaves and the physical process of transition of millions tons of H2O from a firm state, ice, to liquid is often overlooked when reading these words. The ice cap of many kilometers in the course of centuries is slowly converted and flows to the sea. Water, the original environment of mankind, revives the earth and the Golden Age begins.

Daily Random Photo.
Solovki - 2004 . Daily Random Photo.

The space left vacant by the outgoing glacier is now filled with an abundance of fish, which essentially can be caught with bare hands. There is an uproar of vegetation where recently it was an icy desert, innumerable herds of hoofed animals now roam; there is an abundance of light and substantial food. On the whole, this can be equated with paradise! And somewhere in the middle of this water paradise there are the fantastic land masses, islands which have not been touched by man yet. Because of their remoteness from a coast, islands are always explored later. But the legends appeal to ancient memories of mankind, persistently assert, that somewhere ahead, there is the promised land. Perhaps this explains why among many people, islands are considered to be the sacred territory. Dare we declare; Solovki too. It is commonly accepted that creating of myths is one of the most ancient arts, and for certain, legends about the sacred islands of Solovki existed 5-7 thousand years ago.

Now the time evolved when the foot prints of unknown trail-blazers were preparing to step on the land of Sacred Islands. Why "sacred"? Because from the magic point of view, any island is an ideal place for realization of any magical ceremony. More precisely, it is an ideal combination of the elements necessary for magic. Islands are lands surrounded by the Water, open to all forces of Air. Elements of Fire are usually introduced by executing a ceremony by shaman. Element of the Ether is always present everywhere and in everything. Thus, the first Solovki inhabitant had his own myths. He had come by boat, searched for islands and found them.

The time period we are interested in is the fifth millennium B.C. to the first half of the first millennium B.C. Natural conditions of this time were differed by more mild climate, than at present. Average annual temperature was higher than today's by several degrees. The outgoing glacier made the climate damp, much more rains were falling. Gradually over millennia, climate became drier. But the amount of prey in the area would have increased. Plenty of fish, sea and land animals, rich harvests of berries, mushrooms and other edible vegetation made residing in the White Sea acceptable. Consequently, climatic conditions contributed to the population of the White Sea coast and Solovetsky archipelago in particular.

Who was the first Solovki inhabitant? Archaeology answers this question with confidence. Due to the researches of Solovki Archeologic Expedition (Kuratov A.A., Martynov A.J.) we know, that:

a) They lived in rounded dwellings in the form of tents from reindeer skin – the type of dwellings, used by nomads. According to archaeologists these dwellings were a kind of temporary site, although the application of this term to these places used seasonally or for extended times, is extremely debatable.
b) They used decorated dishes of at least two types. It indicates that potter crafts existed in the primitive and modern periods.
c)Large quantities of plummets for fishing and even the presence of rather large (about 5 kg weight) anchors, clearly shows the developed sea and lake fishing. Numerous mollusks composed part of daily diet ration. The presence of anchors (on the boat there are usually two of them – stern and prow) says that the approximate capacity of boats was 5-6 people and the load capacity - about 400 kg.
d) Arms include javelins, knives and various styles of hatchets. The presence of large and small arrows says that they understood archery. Evidently, hunting for birds, small land animals, possibly for reindeer and the marine beast (seals, white whales) was flourishing.
e) They also used various types of the everyday tools: four types of scrapers; knife-scrapers, stickle-scrapers, cutters and knives. This means that they carried out the a large number of the household jobs: dressing of prey, storing of meat, fish, mushrooms and berries. The skins of hunted animals allowed them to sew clothing, build boats and cover dwellings.

It is interesting to note that up to the end of XIX century not only the idiom but also the expression "to sew a boat" remained in the Russian North. Boats were sewn not only out of skins but also out of wood. Boards were fastened together (stitched up) by roots made into threads.

It is curious that economic aspects of life of most ancient nature dependent societies are seldom examined in relation to their structure. The lack of interest to this question may be explained by the opinion about the primitiveness of such cultures. Regardless, by the VI-VII centuries mention of the existence of developed commercial ways can be readily found.

The length of some trading routes is about 4-5 thousand km. It is impossible to deny the existence of similar trading patterns during the time of interest for us. It will take several centuries before the appearance of organized and developed systems. Furthermore, the presence of local trading ways within the various tribes is quite probable. In particular, the history of St.Petersburg is connected with one such probability known as the route from the White Sea to the Baltic region. In certain areas of this route it partially coincides with the White Sea - Baltic Channel. However, the civilization of sea arctic hunters stretched in through the territory of Chukotka and Alaska and can serve as a similar example.

Assuming the presence of economic relations (exchange trade) in the ancient societies, it is possible to examine the Solovki islands not only as hunting and fishing economies, but also as the commercial area of White Sea tribes.

Summary. The first Solovki inhabitant was the marine nomad. He used light portable dwellings, boats, equipment for fishing and hunting and earthenware. He was quite capable to make full day time sailings on his boat. River and lake systems, coastal waters of the internal and external seas were his basic transportation corridors. Sea routes of the ancient conqueror of the White Sea were coastal / land visibility always. One of the principle attributes of this culture is a dependence on nature. It is the most balanced existence for man in nature. Hunting and gathering may have been important but not the only sources of his food. There are no indications of cattle breeding in his society. The first Solovki settler was well fed, dressed clothing and footwear, and therefore he was satisfied with his life. In his leisure time he would create and tell myths. These myths are not so much the final information, but mostly the mechanism for its storage and transfer. There is one step from the myth creation to the creation of religion when man identifies sacred symbols: crosses, half moons, star of David. In our case it is labyrinth. Magic symbols of this most ancient northern religions are scattered all over Solovki.

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