Artefacts found during the My Street city improvement programme will be put on display to Muscovites at the Moscow Museum temporary exhibitions. Moscow Chief Archaeologist Leonid Kondrashev told mos.ru what was found during the work under the My Street programme and what artefacts Muscovites will be able to see in the near future.
Mr Kondrashev, what are archaeologists finding on the sites?
They are finding both small artefacts and large archaeological ruins – remnants of old buildings, fortifications that were part of the city’s defence walls and church foundations.
Moscow has never stopped changing throughout its history, and looks completely different now. Many old buildings were dismantled and their traces remained only in historical documents. We are still walking on what remained of the foundations of ancient buildings. Only deep excavation work reveals them. Workers may simply fail to notice an old pediment when replacing pavements.
However, the My Street programme provides for large-scale replacement of communications and excavation is deep enough for archaeologists to discover historical ruins. We started analysing the repairs at the design stage. We knew how deep the workers would go and had an idea of what they would discover there. The only thing we didn’t know was how well it would be preserved.
This year we found a number of large archaeological ruins – the wooden roadways of Tverskaya Street of the 17th-18th centuries, several foundations linked with Chernyshov’s mansion, part of the clergy’s building linked with Dmitry Solunsky’s Cathedral, the fencing of the Passion Cathedral and part of the White City’s wall.
Last year the foundation of the Assumption Day Church was found on Pokrovka Street. Now archaeologists and designers are trying to find ways of preparing this year’s finds for display in museums. They should be cleaned, restored and protected against potential damage from temperature fluctuations and vandalism. At the same time, the public should have an opportunity to see them. Each project is an engineering and technical challenge because archaeological finds begin to degrade as soon as they come into contact with the environment, for instance, the air.
Not long ago, a trove of 91 copper coins of the 18th century was found on Voznesensky Pereulok. They were enough to buy food for a good dinner for several people or some inexpensive clothes.
You described major finds, but what about everyday items of the city’s past residents?
A host of artefacts have been found. More than a thousand items were discovered during the implementation of the My Street programme in the past two years. Naturally, archaeologists are not treasure-hunters looking for someone else’s treasures or money, but artefacts are inevitably found during any excavations in the historical part of Moscow. Not long ago a trove of 91 copper coins of the 18th century was found on Voznesensky Pereulok. It contained small coins and they were all in one place. A bag or purse must have rotted away but the coins remained intact. This is exactly the sum that a city resident would need to shop on Tverskaya Street. They were enough to buy food for a good dinner for several people or some inexpensive clothes.
For a long time only aristocrats had houses on Tverskaya Street. It was competing with Nikitskaya Street for the right to be the central street and became it. By the 18th century Tverskaya turned into a street of merchants and craftsmen. Aristocrats were building tenement houses on the edge of their mansions overlooking the street. They rented space there while the ground floors housed shops and stalls. Apparently, the owner of the 91 coins was shopping there.
If the device for forging coins had been found, its owner could have had his nostrils torn off and would up in a penal colony under the laws of the time. Most likely the owner got rid of the device upon realising he was about to be caught.
One more interesting find is a device for forging coins from the 17th century. The device found on Tverskaya Street was used to produce stamps for forging coins. Its owner risked a lot. If the device for forging coins had been found, its owner could have had his nostrils torn off and would up in a penal colony under the laws of that time. Most likely he got rid of this device upon realising he was about to be caught.
We are finding many buttons from the 17th century on Tverskaya Street. This means that even 400 years ago the street was crowded and the traffic was so heavy that people lost buttons. There are plenty of makeup tins from the 18th century on Tverskaya Street, which belonged to residents of tenement buildings. Apparently there were many young girls among them, and men also cared about their appearance.
Many crosses from necklaces were found by the Passion Cathedral – this also shows that the place was often crowded.
Research methods are being refined, so we are not rushing to dig up the whole of Moscow.
When underground passes were dug in the 1920, archaeologists saw all the different cultural layers and made their conclusions. Naturally, we studied these materials, so we know approximately what we can find on Tverskaya Street. When communications were upgraded, archaeologists reached the layers from the 17th-18th centuries. However, previous studies show that there are layers from the 16th and 15th centuries. Research methods are being refined, so we are not rushing to dig up the whole of Moscow.
Are repairs suspended during excavations?
The work under the My Street programme is not suspended during archaeological excavations. As I said, we knew already at the design stage how deep the workers would go and figured out when we needed to help them. We created a schedule of work. Imagine, an archaeologist goes to Tverskaya Street. It has a large asphalt coating above concrete bedding and a layer underneath that was destroyed in the 1930s. An archaeologist with a shovel won’t go far.
Our experts look the same as workers. They wear the same uniforms, helmets and vests in line with safety requirements.
At first, we start working with equipment. When we reach historical layers archaeologists come into play, while the equipment is moved to other sites. Builders return when archaeologists finish their work. This is how they cooperate. We are often told: “We haven’t seen any archaeologists on this site.” But our experts look the same as workers. They wear the same uniforms, helmets and vests in line with safety requirements. A team of 100 archaeologists and technicians are involved in excavations under the My Street programme every day.
We have already discussed with the Moscow Museum an opportunity to hold temporary exhibitions of items that archaeologists do not need to study in the near future. The first exhibition will take place in the next few days.
What will happen with archaeological treasures in the future?
By law we study artefacts for three years and only then transfer them to the state museum fund. Moscow finds always go to the Moscow Museum. However, archaeology cannot exist for its own sake. Needless to say, we study the artefacts found during repairs but we also want Muscovites to see them. We have already discussed with the Moscow Museum an opportunity to hold temporary exhibitions of items that archaeologists do not need to study in the near future.
The first exhibition will take place in the next few days. Muscovites will see the items I described. German grave stones of the 17th century will also be among the unique items on display at the exhibition. They were discovered during the communications repairs on Mytnaya Street in the historical district of Zamoskvorechye last year. The grave stones were restored by students of Moscow archaeological colleges. They are unique because they have inscriptions in German that use Protestant symbols. Two white grave stones of the late Middle Ages belong to Berendt and Tomas Kellerman from the merchant family of Kellermans that lived in Moscow in the latter half of the 16th – beginning of the 18th centuries. Apart from merchants, members of this family were interpreters and diplomats, and one of them received a Doctor of Medicine degree. The grave stones were found on Mytnaya Street, on the site of a cemetery for non-Orthodox Christians.
Foreigners who came to Moscow to work were settled in Zamoskvorechye due to their violent tempers and heavy drinking. The locality where they lived was called “Naleika” (Fill my glass). This Russian phrase was the first one learned by many foreigners.
Before displaying historical finds for public view, we have to clean and preserve them. Wooden items must be coated with special polymers that will prevent them from drying out and losing their shape. The first exhibitions will be free. We will show Muscovites the My Street artefacts.
How will you prepare large finds for display in museums – fragments of houses and churches, foundations and walls? Will they be placed under glass?
There are many methods for preserving them and preparing them for display in a museum. Placing them under glass is one of the most complicated methods. Take, for instance, the Trinity Church in Staryye Polya in front of the Central Children’s Store. The outside is enclosed but it’s still under open sky. Foreign cellars in Kolomenskoye are also under a glass roof, while the feeding place is also enclosed along the outside. Sometimes, parts of large facilities are displayed on separate premises. Thus, the Ascension Bridge is exhibited in the Moscow Museum of Archaeology. A display inside some premises is the best option but we cannot build a pavilion in the middle of Tverskaya Street. Today we are looking for the best way to prepare them for museum display on a case-by-case basis. This applies to the White City’s walls on Khokhlovskaya Square.
Will there be an independent public commission or council to monitor excavations in Moscow?
In cooperation with the National Society for Monuments Protection and the Moscow PR Committee we are working to establish a public council for this purpose. We believe this is necessary, all the more so as the President issued an instruction on public oversight. We want this body to act under the law and be efficient. It will be set up within a year.
Mr Kondrashev, large-scale excavations are being conducted in Zaryadye. Some experts maintained that they may help determine the date of the founding of Moscow and even prove that the city was founded much earlier than is believed today.
For the time being we have not found any items that are older than the 12th century. However, excavations always produce opportunities. In any event, no new finds will irrefutably prove that Moscow is older than is believed now. Historians and experts should resolve this issue through argumentation. In the meantime we continue working and still hope to discover more ancient finds in Zaryadye.