Medieval Carving of a Warrior Discovered in Russia

Archaeologists in western Russia have discovered a bone carving depicting a medieval warrior. Dating to the 12th or 13th century, it is exceptionally detailed, with one being able to see the folds of the cloak, the warrior’s muscles, and flowing hair.

The discovery was made in fortifications just outside of Suzdal, one of Russia’s oldest towns. The Institute of Archeology from the Russia Academy of Sciences announced the find, which is a bone plate with a relief carving. The square plate, measuring 45 x 46 mm and about 4 mm thick, features a smooth frame surrounding a central image of a warrior in a cloak, depicted in mid-attack. The warrior holds a shield in his left hand and a sword in his raised right hand. The plate has six asymmetrically placed mounting holes, each just over 3 mm in diameter.


The plate is believed to be a decorative element from a casket made in Byzantium during the Middle Ages. These wooden boxes were adorned with carved bone plates depicting various scenes. The plates were attached to the wooden base with bone nails or pins and were typically placed on the side panels or lid. Such items were widespread from the 10th to the 12th centuries.

These highly artistic caskets were likely produced in workshops in Constantinople. Initially made from ivory, by the 12th century, simpler bone from domestic or wild animals became more common. This shift reflected a broader audience for these products or the rise of provincial bone-carving workshops. Chersonesus is considered a center for casket production, with Constantinople’s artistic bone-carving craft serving as a model for imitation in peripheral workshops.


Direct analogies to the Suzdal plate are found in Byzantine art, such as the side plates of boxes from the State Hermitage and the Novgorod Museum of the Reserve. However, unlike the Suzdal find, these are made of ivory.

Bone plates with artistic relief carvings are extremely rare and valuable in medieval Rus’. Individual ornamented plates and fragments have been excavated in Gnezdovo, Smolensk, and Novogrudok. This discovery is the first of its kind in Suzdal. The plate was found in a small excavation area of just over 70 square meters, where two estates from the 12th to 14th centuries were partially explored. Other notable finds at the site include stone crosses, an encolpion, a glass vessel with enamel painting, and seals. The plate came from a pit filled between the mid-12th to early 13th centuries.

1 – lead filling of the Drogichin type; 2 – crystal bead; 3 – bone chess piece; 4 – stone cross; 5 – fragment of a glass bracelet; 6 – iron arrowhead; 7 – iron key; 8 – iron bits – Image courtesy Russian Academy of Sciences

While the exact place of manufacture — whether in Constantinople or another Byzantine workshop — is yet to be determined, the discovery highlights the estate’s extraordinary nature and the wealth of its inhabitants. The casket, adorned with bone overlays and intricate relief images, reflects the artistic applied art of the time. This find also underscores the cultural and material connections between medieval Suzdal and the Byzantine world, as the naked warrior in a cloak echoes ancient scenes, indicating familiarity with ancient images and mythology alongside traditional Christian elements.