The mystery of ceramic bells and the great-grandfather of a mechanical pencil: finds of archaeologists in Moscow

August 21

Over the last 10 years Moscow archaeologists found about 60 thousand artifacts. Last year alone saw more than 15 thousand finds discovered on the territory of Moscow. Over 700 archaeological items were handed over to the state part of the Museum Fund of Russia in 2020. This information is about the most unusual and scientifically significant artifacts that were found over the last year in Moscow.

Sretenka Street: smoking pipes and the mystery of ceramic bells

More than 800 sites were explored in the 2021 archaeological season. Currently, archaeologists are making important scientific excavations at Sretenka Street. They are still far from being completed, but the collection of individual finds alone exceeds 600 items.

Archaeologists found ceramic household items of the 16th-late 19th century during the research work. Dutch and Turkish smoking pipes, toys, candlesticks, bells, pomade cans are among them. The latter were used for keeping various ointments, balms, and pomades.

Ceramic candlesticks

There are stove tiles in the collection too: they probably decorated the interiors of a Moscow house of the 17th-19th centuries. The tiles has mainly the plant and geometric ornaments.

The archaeologists admit that it is not often that a scientist manages to make a scientific discovery. The painstaking archaeological research creates a historical source that can be the basis for scientific discoveries. Besides, the liaison between archaeological finds and history is rarely straightforward. There is one mysterious find to prove the idea. The site of current archaeological works was occupied in the 16th-17th centuries by courtyards of the military Pushkarskaya Sloboda (settlement) residents. However, ceramic bells were unexpectedly found there instead of military-oriented items.

“The fact is that such bells are quite rare to find in urban strata. For example, many years of works in the Zaryadye and Zayauzye Districts came out with just a few similar items, one fragment was found in the Romanov Yard, and research in the indoor market Gostiny Dvor and Ilyinka Street failed to find anything of the kind. But we found fragments of 12 ceramic bells in a relatively small excavation at Sretenka Street. The big number of bells at Sretenka Street is local and to some extent unique,” emphasizes Vladimir Berkovich, Deputy General Director of the “Archaeological Research in Construction” company.

He says that it is a long-standing opinion that black-glazed ceramics were a kind of imitation of more precious metal products. And this is a link to the assumption that the bells found also imitated their bronze and copper counterparts. Judging by the small quantity of these ceramic replicas, archaeologists conclude that they were manufactured for a short time and small in number.

Ceramic smoking pipes

The situation prompts to refer to the historical data where a short period of copper and bronze shortage is mentioned in the city. It is the early 18th century, when the Russian troops lost all their artillery in the Battle of Narva of 1700.

“We do not exclude that the ceramic bells found during the archaeological research, is a link to these historical events. It should be noted that Sretenka Street was a continuation of the Troitsky Road and one of the main entrances to the city. Shops along the Road were trading for a long time here. Probably such unusual products as ceramic bells appeared in one of the shops early in the 18th century,” Vladimir Berkovich added.

Petrovka Street: coins of the Golden Horde times and a counter token from Nuremberg

The next archaeological excavations to bring interesting items were at 17, Petrovka Street, building 9. The earliest artifacts marking the beginning of the exploration of the site studied, belong to the 16th century.

“Beside ceramics, copper pulo coins (a monetary unit of the Golden Horde times), a calkin, a red clay fishing sinker, a knife fragment, as well as red clay toys — figurines of horses were found at this site,” said Konstantin Voronin, head of the Moscow Archaeological Bureau.

The area of Petrovka Street was at the beginning of its active development in the 17th century. The archaeologist says that a large number of fragments of black-and white-clay ceramics found during excavations are associated with this time.

“Other artifacts of the 17th century discovered during the research, are red clay tiles with relief surface and glazed tiles (with green glazing on the surface), calkins, a signet ring, and a knife with a well-preserved carved wooden handle. Of particular interest is a counter token of the turn of the 16th-17th centuries, made in the German city of Nuremberg in the workshop of the Krauwinckels and Swedish coin of the 17th century,“ adds the head of the Metropolitan Archaeological Bureau.

These foreign items reveal the orientations of some of the Russian state international relations towards Northern and Central European countries in the High and Late Middle Ages.

The 108 sq m excavation totals 850 individual finds. By now, about 300 of them were restored, including leather shoes, pots, and jugs from the archaeological complexes of the Boris Godunov reign. Iron items were also found: tools for manufacturing non-ferrous metal cover plates, arrowheads, and a scraper for horse cleaning.

Stremyanny Lane: a rare treasure of the 15th-16th centuries copper coins

Other types of archaeological items are under study in the area of Paveletskaya Square — at the intersection of Dubininskaya Street and Stremyanny Lane (building 2) and at 69, Dubininskaya Street. Now Moscow’s center, this district saw its first settlements only in the late 16th century. Written sources indicate that it was the territory of the Kolomenskaya Yamskaya Sloboda at that time. An unexpected and most interesting find for archaeologists during excavations in Stremyanny Lane turned out to be a treasure of copper coins of late 15th-16th centuries.

Treasure of coins

“The treasure consists of 88 copper pulo coins of Moscow and Tver coinage. The pulo had the smallest denomination in the Russian medieval coin system with a meager actual value: one silver kopeck accounted for 16-64 pulos at different times. Therefore, single finds of pulos in Moscow’s cultural layer of the 16th century is not a rare occurrence. On the other hand, pulos were very rarely found in treasures, as citizens used to save coins of larger denomination. To date, this pulos treasure is the first find of its kind made during archaeological excavations in Moscow. Since the treasure includes money coined in the range from the 1490s to the 1580s, it should belong most likely the end of the 16th century, i.e.the period of the territory development in the area of Paveletskaya Square,” Konstantin Voronin suggests.

This treasure of 88 pulo coins (as of today it is about 10 kopecks) indicates the living standard in the area of Paveletskaya Square at that time. “We can conclude that in the 16th century it was a suburb where people of low social level lived, who were forced to save such insignificant amounts. Residents of other districts did not consider these coins money at all and did not save them” Konstantin Voronin clarifies.

Dolgorukovskaya Street: the progenitor of the mechanical pencil of the 18th-19th centuries

The study of the archaeological complex at 25, Dolgorukovskaya Street is of particular interest to scientists. This territory once belonged to the noble family of Petrovo-Solovovo. The area of 100 sq m brought 436 individual finds belonging to the 18th-19th centuries including fragments of the Meissen porcelain and English faience produced by the Spode factory that operates nowadays. Fragments of ceramic smoking pipes were also found, these artifacts are associated with the Moscow elite of the 18th-19th centuries.

“The collet pencil is one of the most interesting finds of this excavation. Such pencils were known since the Renaissance, they were a wooden tube with a graphite rod inside its core. Collet pencils were a kind of predecessors of mechanical pencils we are familiar with today,“ said the head of the Metropolitan l Bureau.

Archaeologists admit that in addition to being subjects of the scientific study, the artifacts found during archaeological research form a kind of a mirror reflecting the diverse life of our city in the distant and very recent past. This mirror is a tactile reflection of the continuity and succession of Moscow’s centuries-old culture and lifestyle, tastes, habits, and interests of Muscovites.


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