Restoration work on a 15th century Russian cathedral has brought to light one of the most unusual archives: a pile of historic scraps of papers collected by nest-building birds.
Found in the attic of the Cathedral of the Assumption in Zvenigorod, an old town 40 miles west of Moscow, the collection consists of beak-selected fragments of letters, banknotes, books, cigarette packs, candy wrappers, bus tickets, and even church documents.
"For several centuries swifts and jackdaws built their nests under the roof of the cathedral," Dmitriy Sedov, deputy research director at Zvenigorod's Historical and Architectural Museum, said in a statement.
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"We found a thick layer made of dirt, branches, and fragments of papers stolen by birds to keep their chicks warm," he added.
Sedov estimates the oldest fragments date to the 1830s, when the roof was last replaced.
Although most of the papers are torn and ruined by beaks, it is still possible to read their contents.
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Most of the fragments are pieces of letters written in elegant calligraphy, mentioning in particular Count Karl Nesselrode, foreign minister of imperial Russia from 1822 to 1856.
A scrap of a calendar bears the date of December 6, 1917 with a note referring to Russian Emperor Nicolas II, the last tsar of Russia executed with his family by the Bolsheviks the following year.
Other documents include bus tickets, delivery contracts, students' diplomas, church documents, birth certificates and scribbled down notes. One reads: "Good afternoon, Vera! I send you greetings."
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Among the banknotes, the archaeologists found the remains of a 1,000 ruble note. Its owner was likely devastated after having lost it to birds, since it was quite a fortune in those times.
Candy wrappers dating to the 19th and early 20th centuries also abounded in the nests, in sharp contrast with the recovered scraps of bread ration cards from the 1930s which recall Stalin's collectivization policies.
"It's an incredibly diverse collection of fragments of human thoughts, feelings, experiences, concerns, passions and desires," Sedov said.
Several papers from the avian archive have been sent to historians for further analysis.
Image: Not only branches: fragmented documents have been recovered from birds' nest in a Russian cathedral. Credit: Rossella Lorenzi