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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Excavated Bones Ancient, Not From 1930s, Zoo Says

A collection of human bones discovered during excavation work at the Moscow zoo two weeks ago may date from as far back as the 15th century, zoo officials said Thursday.

Initially, the human remains were thought to be those of victims of Stalin-era political repression, but archaeologists now say the bodies are much older.

"These bodies are not from the 1930s," said Natalya Istratova, the Zoo's press spokeswoman. "They are from many centuries ago."

Workers at the 130-year old Moscow zoo believe it may have been built on top of an ancient burial site. Vladimir Olik, the foreman in charge of the construction of a new bear enclosure on the site, said that following the initial unearthing of five skulls on Aug. 11, the workers dug up a large gravestone last week.

"We went and got the priest from the church up the road," said Olik, "but he said the inscription was in such ancient Slavonic he couldn't read it without a dictionary." Olik said the year on the gravestone appeared to be 1480.

Istratova, however, said that although experts have not yet dated the bodies, initial estimates say the bones are probably from the 17th century.

Olik said the construction team has so far unearthed 18 whole skulls and many bones belonging to both children and adults, and Olik says he is sure he will find more as the building work continues.

When the discovery was first made, officials thought they had uncovered a KGB murder site, as the first five skulls had round holes at the base which appeared to have been made by bullets. But the holes may have been made by other, older weapons.

"Do not think that repression in Russia began with Stalin," said Istratova. "These may have been victims of earlier repressions."