Bone medallion and bullets dated 1812: new finds at the former Orphanage territory

September 3

During excavations at the territory of the former Moscow Imperial Orphanage in Kitaygorodsky Proezd archaeologists found 285 artifacts of the 19th century. The work is carried out by specialists from the Institute of Archeology of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

The Moscow Imperial Orphanage was founded in 1763 by Empress Catherine II as a charitable educational institution for orphans. It was abolished after 1917.

“The new finds are excellent illustrations of this building’s rich history. A pupil token is among the interesting artifacts. It looks like an oval bone medallion with individual number “7098” and the year “1853” carved on it. Such token was made for each child. Archeologists will study the artifacts, put them in order, and then hand over to one of the capital's museums. Excavations at the territory are not yet completed, therefore we hope that other interesting evidence of past centuries will be found here before winter sets in”, Alexei Yemelyanov, head of the Moscow Cultural Heritage Department said.

Traces of bone carving production were also found at the site of archaeological research — fragments of plates made of animal bones. Most likely, round buttons were cut out of them. The archaeological collection also contains samples of finished products made by pupils — bone spoons. The fact is that there were workshops at the Orphanage where children learned crafts. Beside bone carving, boys mastered dyeing and making shoes, gloves and textiles, and girls were taught house keeping, needlework, sewing and lace weaving.

Other finds of interest are six bullets related to the Patriotic War of 1812. At the time when the French army occupied Moscow, the Orphanage employees stayed in the institution to take care of children and managed to saved the main building from fire, although Kitai-Gorod district was close to being completely burned down. And the Orphanage housed a hospital.

Fragments of ceramic kitchenware and tableware, tiles and lamps are among other finds. Experts also found elements of leather shoes.  

The building is currently undergoing restoration

History of the Orphanage

The Moscow Imperial Orphanage was founded in 1764. The idea to establish such institution for orphans and homeless children was proposed to the empress by Ivan Betskoy, her personal secretary and activist of the Russian education. According to Betskoy’s plan the construction of the Orphanage took place at Vasilievsky Lug — a plot of land between Solyanka street and the Moskva River.

The complex of buildings was designed by Karl Blank — one of last Baroque masters and the first architect of early classicism in Russia. His project consisted of three closed square-buildings with large courtyards. This is the largest pre-revolutionary building in the city (  facade length is  379 meters). The main building and the western square were built in the 18th century, but the eastern square was erected only in the 1960s on the initiative of Joseph Loveiko, an architect.

In the 18-20th centuries, the Orphanage complex was expanding. The buildings were transferred to trade union institutions after the revolution. The Palace of Labor was opened here — it is described in the "12 Chairs" novel by Ilya Ilf and Yevgeny Petrov as the House of Peoples. From 1938 to 2016, the complex first housed the Felix  Dzerzhinsky Artillery Academy of the Workers' and Peasants' Red Army, and then the Peter the Great Military Academy of Strategic Missile Forces.

Preservation of such finds is an important part of archaeological work. At the first stage of works experts remove soil, and then proceed to restoration. It can take from a week to several years depending on the complexity of the artifact and its condition.

Over the last 10 years Moscow archaeologists found about 60 thousand artifacts. Last year alone, over 15 thousand items were discovered, over 700 were transferred to the state part of the Museum Fund of the Russian Federation.


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