Avian Archivists: Bird Nests Reveal Hidden Manuscripts

During the restoration of the Assumption Cathedral, which was constructed in the early 15th century in Zvenigorod, Russian archaeologists made a fascinating discovery. They found numerous bird nests that had been built over several centuries under the deteriorated roof.

What surprised the researchers even more was that as the nests broke down, they uncovered paper documents from various time periods alongside bird bones and eggshells. Specifically, these documents included manuscripts from the 18th century and notes from the early 20th century.

Over generations, birds had been meticulously incorporating these papers into their nests, seemingly to create a cosy environment. Interestingly, some of the papers were acquired through theft: birds like jackdaws and swifts had not only collected human litter but also financial securities such as promissory notes, bills of sale, and even banknotes.

Remarkably, among the findings were fragments of 1,000 ruble banknotes—a considerable fortune during that era. The best-preserved items within these old nests turned out to be various printed materials, including shreds of pre-revolutionary newspapers, candy wrappers, recipes, tickets, packaging, and more.

Elia Kabanov is a science writer covering the past, present and future of technology (@metkere)

Photos by Alexey Alexeyev.

PS First published in 2015, this story garnered global attention, receiving numerous reposts, 8,000 retweets, and 45,000 likes on Facebook. The universal fascination with birds was clearly evident. Here are a few instances of its media coverage: