The Russian Project

Originally Published in 1932

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DUE to the double barrier of language and political isolation, the progress of scientific investigation in Russia has remained virtually unknown since the end of the War. With the realization that much must have been accomplished in fields of particular interest to the Museum, such as archæology and anthropology, a project was launched last summer, with the welcome cooperation of the Peabody and the Fogg Museums of Harvard, to send a representative to Leningrad to gather as much information as possible in regard to present research, to establish contacts for the exchange of information, publications and notes, and to effect cooperative measures that would insure for the future a ready dissemination among scientific bodies in Europe and America of knowledge of the outstanding developments in their fields. To those initiating this plan it seemed high time at least to discover some means whereby research being carried forward in so vast an area of the land surface of the earth should no longer remain entirely unknown to students and scientists of the West.

Four small wood carved objects, two showing animals and one in a face
Plate VI — Wood Bas-Relief Decorations on Saddle Trappings of the Pazirík Burial, Altai, Siberia

Mr. Eugene Golomshtok, a former student at Kazan University and a graduate of the University of California, was chosen for this mission. In the course of a visit of two and a half months he was able to make notable progress along the lines desired. For the present he has prepared the following brief resume of his endeavours which it is felt will be of interest to readers of the Bulletin:

‘One of the first things to strike the observer was the enormous activity in Soviet Russia in the fields of anthropology and archæology. Since the revolution all private collections have become the property of the State, and, as a result of this, there has been a great increase in the treasures in the already existing museums and in the establishment of numerous new ones. At the present time almost every little town in Russia has a museum and as well a local society for the study of history and the peoples of the region. A list of such organizations, published as long ago as 1925, totals over seventeen hundred, and some idea of the number of publications issued by all such agencies may be derived from a bibliography of works on archæology in U. S. S. R., published during the decade 1918-1928, which gives twenty-one hundred different titles.

‘Scientific expeditions also testify to unusual activity; these vary in size from those like the Yakutsk Expedition, with about a hundred members of the scientific staff and a duration of five years, to small groups of students with the local archæologist as the leader, penetrating in all regions of Russia and Siberia, obtaining data, making collections and excavations, taking physical measurements, and assembling important ethnological information. There already exists, therefore, an enormous amount of fresh material, the value of which is hard even to imagine, since it is almost totally inaccessible to the students of Europe and America.

‘In an effort to blaze a trail for making this wealth of data accessible to the rest of the scientific world, agreements with the leading Russian institutions were reached for the permanent exchange of publications, photographs of objects in museums, and of original manuscripts by leaders in various fields, as well as for loans and the exchange of collections.

‘The University Museum receives as the first shipment some five hundred volumes of publications, four hundred photographs, and a number of summaries and original manuscripts, on the most important phases of the archæological and anthropological research. In addition, the writer has obtained extensive data for the study of the Palæolithic period of Russia, making possible a general survey of it, shortly to be presented to American scientists.

Two pieces of bone with engravings of animals
Plate VII — Engraved Bone Plaque from the Kudirghe Grave, Altai, Siberia

‘Information pertaining to the most recent and important discoveries and activities was collected, photographs of objects in the museums obtained, and leading authorities consulted. Among these, fairly complete data was obtained on the so-called ‘Pazirík Burial’ in the Altai, where an excavated tumulus revealed an unusually rich civilization of nomadic people, culminating in the splendid burial of the Khan; the furniture of the graves was beautifully preserved, due to the peculiar conditions of the eternal frost. Ten mummified horses with richly decorated bridles, saddles, felt blankets, masks, carvings in wood covered with gold, the richly decorated coffin, and a number of objects of artistic as well as archæological value from this grave are now in the Russian Museum in Leningrad [Plate VI].

‘Materials and photographs were obtained illustrating such finds as the discovery of Palæolithic statuettes (Gagárino, Maltá and Kosténki); the house pits of the Aurignacian period (Timonovka and Kosténki); and the find of the trunk of a Mammoth in the ever-frozen ground of Siberia, revealing for the first time the actual shape of the body of this animal. Information was secured on the work of the Ethnographical Theater, the Institute of the Northern Tribes, where living Chukchi, Yukaghir, Buriats, Goldy, Samoyeds, Lopars, Tungus and representatives of many other Siberian Tribes are gathered in Leningrad for study and promotion of education, and the preparation of primers in the native tongues in the specially prepared alphabets. As the result, books in sixty-three different languages such as Buriat, Ghiliak, and Tungus, have been published.

‘A very complete ethnographical map, illustrating the distribution of one hundred and sixty-nine ethnic groups in the territory of U. S. S. R., together with a number of publications on the subject were secured for the Museum. A series of the smaller regional maps present excellent additional material for the future student.

‘The rich collections of the Hermitage Museum (Scythian gold, Sassanids. Siberian and Caucasian bronzes) of the Russian Museum (ethnography of U. S. S. R. and archæology of Minusinsk and Altai regions), of the Museum of the Academy of Scienccs (large collections of ethnographical material from all over the world and the most complete material on the Palæolithic period in Russia) were studied and considerable data obtained.

‘All this material and the arrangements made with the State Academy of the History of Material Culture, which has undertaken to send periodically the summarized information of the current activities in the fields of anthropology and archæology in Russia, will enable the Museum to present to American and European scientists a quantity of hitherto unavailable data.

‘Personal contacts with the leaders in the various branches of the field were made with the objective of facilitating direct communications between the students of both countries.

‘All material and data so far secured, as well as assistance in establishing preliminary contacts, is extended by the University Museum to all interested in this vast and important field.’

Cite This Article

"The Russian Project." Museum Bulletin III, no. 3-4 (January, 1932): 82-91. Accessed July 23, 2024.

This digitized article is presented here as a historical reference and may not reflect the current views of the Penn Museum.

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