Fate of an artifact: how archaeological finds get into museums

January 9

It is impossible to imagine modern historical science without archaeologists — it is archaeology that helps understand how our ancestors lived. Scientists have no limits of immersing in time, and the Moscow soil can reveal not only the history of the city — initial settlements emerged on the territory of the contemporary capital long before its foundation. According to some estimates, they appeared here in the Neolithic era — about eight thousand years BC. To prevent the past from literally dissolving into the ground, it is painstakingly collected and restored.

Rescue Archaeology

The way of a find to the museum begins at excavation works, performed prior to any construction activities in the city. The law stipulates that the work shall be carried out in the mode of excavation, observation or exploration. Excavations precede each construction, thereafter the course of works is accompanied by archaeological observations.

Archaeologists instruments are shovels, trowels and brushes. They carefully examine every handful of earth. The cultural layer of Moscow consists of multiple strata of different times. This is clearly visible in the stratification — location of cultural layers, that help find out history of the area and its development.

Anastasia Borodkina, Head of the laboratory investigation sector of Archaeological Survey in Construction LLC, says that historical finds are available on every site.

Anastasia Borodkina, Head of the laboratory investigation sector of Archaeological Survey in Construction LLC.

"Most often finds at excavations are tiles, porcelain and earthenware. Stove tiles are equivalents of modern glazed tiles. Porcelain and earthenware — because plates and dishes were breaking and their fragments thrown away. Sometimes we are especially lucky to find garbage pits. This is the best option, because many items survive there," the Head emphasizes. “Broken dishes — it was all thrown away, and we can assemble, glue and get the whole item. Once a large pit was found with a huge number of cups and saucers of the same type — nearly a complete set."

Each item found at the excavation site is packaged and labeled to record the address, depth and location of the find. It is in this form that the future museum exhibit gets into laboratory.

Photo by Yulia Ivanko, Mos.ru

A pawn with a secret and 800 ceramic tiles

First of all, all the finds are subject to washing. This process, like everything ingenious, is very simple — a specialist needs only a brush and ordinary water, nothing special. One of the features is thorough cleaning of each fragment joints to ensure their subsequent high quality and accurate gluing. Then the washed items are dried, encrypted and drawn.

It is not difficult to encrypt an archaeological find, you just need to put a registration designation on it: the year of works, the address of the excavation, the layer where the object was found, its number and the abbreviation of the researching institution. The Archaeological Survey in Construction company has a very poetic encryption: every piece of antiquity is marked as initialism AIST (stork) after the first letter in each word of the company’s name in Russian. According to Anastasia Borodkina, even Neolithic items can be found on the territory of modern Moscow. "We found very ancient things. A fragment of a stone tip — about the third - fifth millennium BC. Old pit-comb ceramics were found on the site of ancient settlements, it was also made about five to three thousand years BC. Meanwhile, we are interested in all items, even the latest ones, for example, belonging to the late 19th century. We were happy to find grips and locks. Among unusual finds are a bronze bell and millstones in a very good condition," Head of the laboratory investigation sector said.

The next stage is drawing and taking photos. Specialists measure and accurately draw parameters, shape and volume of the find. And they also make a photo of every find.

The photo studio contains pictures of two unusual items: a chess piece and a reconstruction of a tiled stove. Each of them has a story.

"We found a set of tiles on the site, about 800 pieces of a set. Apparently, old tiles were removed from the stove. Thus, we were able to make its full-fledged reconstruction from floor to ceiling. And the bone chess piece turned out to be a hiding place. Its two parts were screwed together to hide silver coins inside the hollow figure. Nevertheless, it is unlikely that this was a valuable treasure, most likely, the money was used as a game bet," Anastasia Borodkina said.

Treasures are actually found infrequently. Sometimes archaeologists come across precious scrap of silver spoons, forks, icon frames, but these are rare cases, usually single coins are found. The last treasure was found back in 2019 — a treasure of silver coins belonging to the period of Ivan the Terrible. Their popular name was the scales because they were thin and specially shaped.

Assembly and museums

Finding a historical dish or jug in a perfect condition is an incredible piece of luck. Therefore, one of the most important stages of archaeological finds preservation is restoration.

As is the case with washing, no special substances are used in the process. After all, one of the main conditions of work is the reversibility of gluing. That is why experts use ordinary PVA glue. If something goes wrong, the item can be easily returned to its original state and then properly re-glued.

First of all, archaeologists need ordinary sand to work with ceramics. One fragment of a broken dish is stuck vertically into a small box filled with sand and another suitable piece is placed on top of the first one. If the second piece’s gravity prevents it from falling without glue, it means that the historical puzzle is put together correctly and the joint can be glued. The missing elements are subsequently filled with gypsum. According to experts, two fragments put in this position are glued for about 20 minutes, and one small dish will take several hours to restore.

Metal things are found somewhat less often, for example, weapons are poorly preserved. Metal restoration is more time-consuming, therefore such finds are restored in restoration workshops.

Once the archaeological collection is described and restored in full, it is handed over to the museum. "All the finds collected in the course of research are handed over to the Museum of Moscow funds. The museum assigns them to the permanent or auxiliary fund. And next time we can meet our items at the exhibition," the expert noted.

Despite the fact that the pandemic period is not very generous with finds, Anastasia Borodkina does not lose optimism: "The potential is huge, there is always a place to dig and look for artifacts. There are many sites in Moscow, and we come to new ones and find evidence of the past life."

Source: mos.ru

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