The famous Trinity Sergius Lavra is a historical and cultural landmark of federal significance included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. It is a functional monastery ensemble, a pilgrimage destination for many followers coming from various parts of Russia. It contains the historical occupation layer of great scientific value. The Institute of Archaeology has been conducting its excavations in the Lavra since 2003.
In 2014 rescue archaeological excavations were carried out in some sections of the Trinity Sergius Lavra necropoleis near the Whit Monday (Holy Spirit) Church, the Church of St. Micah and the Refectory with the Church of Sergius of Radonezh (the Refectory), the cemetery of the Moscow Ecclesiastical Academy and Seminary. The total area of excavations is more than 400 m².
The archaeological excavations in the aforesaid sections were conducted to clarify the information on the constructions and prepare a plan of preservation activities; identify the names of individuals buried for subsequent restoration of the necropoleis; define boundaries of cemetery belonging to the Moscow Ecclesiastical Academy and Seminary; perform rescue excavations in those sections where engineering networks were installed; perform restoration works.
Excavations in the necropolis section near the Whit Monday Church were conducted north-east of the Descent of the Holy Spirit Church near its north altar apse. The exposed area was 33 m². Six crypts made from oversized bricks were opened, including four crypts built in the same period judging by their material and the stonework. The upper part of the crypts was heavily damaged during installation of electric cables while five out of six graves turned out to be intact or only partially disturbed. Therefore, anthropological samples were selected for follow-up laboratory examination. Glass vessels (lachrymatories), namely, a bowl and a glass, as well as a silk cap worn by married women and known as volosnik were found in two female graves.
Furthermore, the excavations yielded a massive section of ashlar masonry that can be taken to be a north-eastern edge of the water diversion ditch constructed around the Descent of the Holy Spirit Church in 1832–1847.
The rescue archaeological excavations near the Church of St. Micah and the Refectory had taken place before the earthwork was conducted to build a trench for engineering network. The exposed area was 42 m². Seventeen graves mostly dating to the 15th–17th centuries were examined. Red clay lachrymatories as grave offerings were found in some graves of the 15th–16th centuries. Some graves dating to the 16th–17th centuries had white stone memorials with epitaphs and sarcophagi with lids, it helped identify the names of individuals from five graves with fair confidence.
The area of the excavation trench in the cemetery of the Moscow Ecclesiastical Academy and Seminary is around 400 m². Three rows of graves of the Academy necropolis were identified, 37 burial constructions were examined, including 31 burials that were fully examined. It was established that the graves had not been plundered. The boundaries of the necropolis were determined; its area is around 275 m².
The cemetery in the Academy garden came about at the end of 1871 on initiative of Archpriest A.V. Gorsky, Rector of the Moscow Ecclesiastical Academy. After ‘liquidation of the Trinity Sergius Lavra as a monastery’ in 1919 all gravestones and monuments within the necropolis were destroyed.
Archaeological excavations had been preceded by work at the archives. In addition to archaeological excavations, the examination of the necropolis included complex anthropological studies such as determination of sex and age of the dead; identification of diseases and injuries as well as specific features of appearance. The proprietary method of composite photographs developed by S.A. Nikitin was applied. Digital 3D copies of the skulls were obtained using modern methods of photogrammetry and laser scanning. The total number of graves with buried people identified is 17.
Individual artifacts, mostly, include personal possessions of the dead (devotional items, and clothes); some individual finds discovered during excavations illustrate the process of Academy necropolis destruction; for example, some finds include debris of marble and granite memorial constructions and fragments of ritual wreaths.