Archaeology in the Ex-USSR: Post-Perestroyka Problems

Article excerpt


For about 70 years the USSR possessed the world's largest network of archaeological research (Trigger 1989). The foundation of this system was laid on 18 April 1919, when Lenin signed a decree establishing the Russian Academy for the History of Material Culture (RAIMK) in place of the Imperial Archaeological Commission. The same decree proclaimed all the historical and archaeological monuments on the Russian territory to be state property.

The establishment of a centralized archaeological structure in the newly founded communist state was instigated by Nikolai Ya. Marr (1865-1934), the Russian linguist and archaeologist of Marxist orientation.

From the very beginning the archaeology in the USSR was largely viewed as a device for official communist indoctrination. The study of material remains (hence the name of the archaeological institution) was regarded as an instrument for promoting Marxist dogmas in relation to the socio-economic development of pre-class and early-class societies. For a long time Marr's teaching based on the formal similarities between the evolution of languages and Marxist explanation of socio-economic evolution was officially regarded as a guideline for Soviet theoretical and practical archaeology. Marr's concept was refuted after Stalin in 1950 criticized it as 'a vulgarization of Marxism'.

The structure of Soviet archaeology was repeatedly modified in the course of recent decades until it finally acquired its full status in the 1970s.

At that time at least three hierarchical levels could be distinguished:

All-Union institutions

These were entitled to carry out archaeological investigations on the whole territory of the USSR:

Research Institutes of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR

Institute of Archaeology, Moscow (Directors: Acad. V.P. Alexeyev; died in 1992; acting director: Prof. R.M. Munchayev);

Leningrad (later St Petersburg) Branch of the Institute of Archaeology (Director: Prof. V.M. Masson);

Institute of History, Ethnography and Archaeology, Novosibirsk (Director: Acad. A. Derevyanko).

Each of these institutes included several historically evolved departments, e.g. Department of Stone Age, Department of Central Asia and Siberia, Department of North Pontic: (Classical) Archaeology, Department of Finno-Slavic Archaeology, Laboratory for Archaeological Technology (St Petersburg); Department of Neolithic and Bronze Age, Department of Slavic Archaeology, Department of Classical Archaeology, Department of Theoretical Archaeology, Department of Archaeological Records, Laboratory for Scientific Methods (Moscow).


Large departments of archaeology exist at the Moscow State University and at the St Petersburg State University. There are departments of Archaeology at the universities of Ekaterinburg (Sverdlovsk), Novosibirsk, Tomsk, Vladivostok, Syktyvkar (Komi Republic in the Russian North), and some other universities.

The universities carry out mostly teaching, both on undergraduate and postgraduate (aspirantura) levels. At the same time, the universities are engaged in research and carry out field projects, mostly on a smaller scale than the institutes belonging to the Academy of Science. The inadequate co-operation between the 'academic' institutions and the universities was one of the main shortcomings of Soviet science inherited by the present regime.


The most important sections of archaeology, housing considerable collections, are at the State Museum of History, Moscow; The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg; The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Art, Moscow; Anthropological and Ethnographic Museum of the Russian Academy of Sciences, St Petersburg.

Archaeological and prehistoric departments at these museums carry out many archaeological expeditions: e.g. the Hermitage Museum has numerous archaeological missions in Central Asia, the North Pontic area and the Russian northwest. …