Leonid Kondrashev: Many interesting discoveries in store for Moscow

Leonid Kondrashev: Many interesting discoveries in store for Moscow
The ancient fortifications of Zemlyanoy Gorod, new sections of the Bely Gorod walls and foundations from 17th century buildings could be discovered in 2017 as part of My Street urban renovation programme.

Leonid Kondrashev, Chief Archaeologist of Moscow

Preparatory work for My Street urban renovation programme was launched last weekend in Moscow. Construction workers and utility services will not be the only ones involved. Joining them will be archaeologists, historians and regional studies experts. Every renovation effort brings new historical discoveries. In fact, more than one thousand artefacts and fragments from ancient buildings have been discovered in the past few years as part of the My Street programme. Chief Archaeologist of Moscow, Leonid Kondrashev, told mos.ru in an interview how many archaeologists will take part in the My Street project this year, what discoveries are expected and how archaeological sites will be protected.

Question: Are Moscow archaeologists getting ready for the My Street renovation programme? How will archaeological monitoring be conducted this year?

Leonid Kondrashev: Taking into account the huge amount of archaeological research we will have to carry out this year, we are planning to have at least 100 archaeologists working on the project. The technology will remain the same as last year. These methods were tried and tested, and the operational flow will be pretty much the same everywhere. Construction workers remove the road surface and start digging into the ground, after which archaeologists enter the site in order to understand whether anything can be discovered there.

We were not tasked with excavating ancient Moscow in its entirety. If during repairs there is a possibility to bypass underground archaeological sites, we will be glad to do so. If deep-lying layers can be left untouched, we will not dig into them

While archaeologists work on one site, construction workers can move to another one. There will be a special schedule to this effect. As I have said on numerous occasions, we were not tasked with excavating ancient Moscow in its entirety. If during repairs there is a possibility to bypass underground archaeological sites, we will be glad to do so. If deep-lying layers can be left untouched, we will not dig into them.

After all, My Street programme is an urban development, not archaeological, initiative. Let’s leave it to future generations of archaeologists to engage in more detailed studies with better technology than we have today.

Just like last year, we are getting ready to take part in My Street 2017 project alongside designers, architects, and historians and regional studies experts, construction workers and utilities services. All these experts have a say in how urban renovation and development should be carried out so that Moscow’s historical and cultural heritage is preserved. Archaeological research plans were prepared for every street included in the 2017 programme. These documents go through the necessary approvals and expert reviews, and all the works strictly comply with them.

Archaeologists are already at work on Lubyanskaya Square, where preparations for renovation have begun. It has to be noted that our research this year builds on the work done last year when we monitored urban renovation.

Zemlyanoy Gorod fortifications dating back to the 16th century could be discovered on the Garden Ring

Question: What are the most promising streets in the urban renovation programme in terms of archaeology?

Leonid Kondrashev: There are many interesting discoveries in store for Moscow. The renovation of the Boulevard Ring, the Garden Ring, Kitai-Gorod and streets in the vicinity of Zaryadye Park, including Varvarka Street, Kitaygorodsky Proyezd, Moskvoretskaya Street and Moskvoretskaya Embankment will begin soon. Kadashevskaya and Goncharnaya embankments, which are part of historical neighbourhoods called Kadashevskaya Sloboda and Goncharnaya Sloboda, could also be interesting as far as archaeology is concerned.

Archaeologists will be working side by side with construction and repair workers. However, we know what sites and artefacts to expect even before digging into the ground.

For example, the Boulevard Ring replaced ramparts and towers that delimitated what was called Bely Gorod, or White City. Of course, we are eager to learn what remained of them. On the Garden Ring, there is a chance that Zemlyanoy Gorod (“earthworks town”) fortifications will be discovered. This series of structures is sometimes referred to as Wooden City or Skorodom. They represented earthwork and wood structures built in the 16th century to protect Moscow. Archaeological digs in central Moscow could help us discover parts and foundations of 17th and 18th century buildings. We also expect that multiple artefacts will be discovered, shedding light on everyday life, trade, and relations with other cities and countries.

The remaining part of the Bely Gorod ramparts will become part of an amphitheatre that will be integrated in the urban landscape of the renovated Khokhlovskaya Square

Question: What will be done to preserve the remaining Bely Gorod ramparts on Khokhlovskaya Square where renovation is scheduled to begin this year?

Leonid Kondrashev: Fragments of the Bely Gorod wall were discovered almost ten years ago. The decision on how to preserve and expose them was long in coming. In May 2016, a survey was published on the Active Citizen platform, in which Moscow residents supported the idea of making this monument available to the public. The wall fragment built 500 years ago will stay where it always was, and it will be easily accessible. The remaining part of Bely Gorod ramparts will become part of an amphitheatre that will be integrated in the urban landscape of the renovated Khokhlovskaya Square. The wall will remain out in the open, and a special coating will be applied to it in order to protect it from rain, snow and temperature fluctuations.

Question: Do you intend to ask foreign experts, well known archaeologists to take part in your effort?

Leonid Kondrashev: We are exploring this issue in cooperation with Moscow’s Department for Foreign Economic Activity and International Relations. Our foreign colleagues will certainly get a chance to learn about the work of Moscow’s archaeologists. There is an idea to work with experts from the International Council on Monuments and Sites, which works in UNESCO member states. In addition, archaeologists and historians from other countries who will be in Moscow for the Denkmal 2017 exhibition will also be asked to share their views. This will be the fourth specialised exhibition on the protection and renovation of monuments, held in cooperation with the Leipzig Trade Fair. Moscow will be hosting Denkmal 2017.

Contractors chosen for carrying out repair and construction work will be in charge of security at the sites

Question: Who will ensure that archaeological research is being done properly?

Leonid Kondrashev: Experts from the research and methodology council at Moscow’s Department of Cultural Heritage will do that. This council brings together the leading researchers and experts in various areas related to cultural heritage preservation.

We hold seminars for police officers on on-site security to explain who illegal diggers are, and why it is important to ensure that the excavation site remains intact. In addition, the project contractors will be in charge of security on their sites. They will be responsible not only for equipment and materials, but also for securing the dig from intruders.

If someone finds something on a street under renovation that looks like an archaeological artefact, they should call the Department of Cultural Heritage hotline at +7 (916) 146-53-27. They can also call my reception desk at +7 (499) 237-65-83. It should not be an anonymous call. Present yourself, leave your contact details, and say where and in what circumstances you made the discovery, and provide a detailed description of the artefact. The same telephone numbers can be used to report on illegal diggers and any illegal activity.

Question: What will happen to the discovered artefacts? Will there be a follow-up to last year’s exhibition, Tverskaya Street and More?

Leonid Kondrashev: We’ll continue our collaboration with the Museum of Moscow. As soon as the first artefacts are found as part of the My Street 2017 programme, the public will be able to see them. Under the law, archaeological artefacts are to be transferred to museums within three years after discovery. During this term, they can be studied. However, these artefacts can be shown in temporary exhibits held in cooperation with the Museum of Moscow. This does not mean that no research is being done. After the exhibit, researchers can continue to work with these artefacts.