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On the History of Russian Archeology
November 15, 2007 14:47

Archeology as scientific study of objective historical monuments was well established in Russia not until the 19th century. Describing and collecting archeological monuments, however, started much earlier: relics of religious significance were kept in church vestries, whereas various antique valuables were gathered in tsars’ treasuries.

Initially authorities regarded archeological finds merely as hoards; for example ancient coins were melted down to mint new coins. Yet some of our ancestors, apparently, recognized the possibility of historical interest in the finds: thus, for instance, a description of old metal objects found during the diggings at Iset River under the reign of Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich, has been preserved.

 Governmental support of archeological studies in Russia dates back to the epoch of Peter the Great, whose order of February 13, 1718 assigned remuneration for various “old things” that can be found “under the ground or in water”. Peter the Great ordered Messershmidt to collect antiquities in Siberia, and to send “curious” things of silver and gold to Saint Petersburg without melting them.

Peter the Great’s Kunstkammer founded in 1714 was filled with numerous archeological rarities, especially those from Siberia and the East. Later the antiquities were delivered partly to the Academy of Sciences, and partly to the Moscow collections of the Armoury Chamber, Stable Yard and Workshop Chamber, and so on.

 Under the reign of Anna Ioannovna V.N. Tatishchev wrote an instruction for gathering geographical, ethnographical and archeological data; the paper was approved by the Academy of Sciences and sent to all the provinces of Russia.

In 1759 the Academy intending to make up a new atlas of Russia endeavoured to gather information on the land’s antiquities. The year 1761 saw the expedition of the artist Grekov for copying icon and fresco images in churches and monasteries.

In the epoch of Catherine the Great researches drew up descriptions of Siberian and Bulgarian antiquities, as well as Permian and Yekaterinoslav barrows. In the late 18th century one of the most active figures of Russian archeology was Count A.I. Musin-Pushkin, the author of one of the first attempts of expounding the antiquities.

 The activities of Russian archeologists set its right course from the early 19th century, especially after the establishment of the Russian History and Antiquities Society, which published a range of news and articles on archeology in its issues. One of the patrons of archeology in those years was Count N.P. Rumyantsev. In 1806 rules for maintaining the Workshop and Armoury Chambers and keeping in order and safety the relics kept therein; next year the first description of the Armoury Chamber was issued. In 1822 regulations on preserving the monuments of archeology in Crimea were set forth.

The year 1820 saw the publication of “Project of Research Journey around Russia for Explaining Slavic History” by Zorian Dolugi-Hodakovsky, who raised the issue of ancient settlement sites and developed a peculiar theory giving a key to them.  The controversy concerning the ancient sites brought about a range of precious studies.

Emperor Nicholas I issued numerous regulations for preserving ancient castles, fortresses, and houses. His reign is marked with significant achievements in archeology, such as the activities of Adelung, who described Korsun Gates in Kiev, of Keppen, who compiled the list of Russian monuments, burial mounds, etc., of numismatist Fren, of archeographers Kalaidovich and P.M. Stroyev, of Metropolitan Evgeny, and many other scholars.

The activities of Odessa History and Antiquities Society, Kerch Museum and archeological committee attached to His Emperor’s Majesty Cabinet succeeded in ascertaining much about the ancient history of the Northern coast of the Black Sea.

 Publications of Saint Petersburg Archeological Society provided numerous reports and news about local antiquities found in Russia; the Society awarded prizes for issuing collections of old Russian inscriptions and reporting data on Russian archeology subjects.

Emperor’s Archeological Committee founded in 1859 at the Ministry of Emperor’s Yard was mainly into exploration of tumuli in Dnepr, Crimean and Taman regions. The Committee was in charge of finding antiquities, collecting information on monuments of the past and scientific evaluation of discovered relics. Unlike other societies, it did not, however, carry out scientific research.  The foremost finding of the Committee was the discovery of rich royal tombs on Taman Peninsula in 1879. The Committee became famous with its restoration activities.

It was the Academy of Arts that greatly contributed to the preservation of antique buildings, churches and, in general, monuments of historic art. Moscow Archeological Society founded in 1864, was especially successful in arranging archeological congresses. Its major figures were Count A.S. Uvarov, K.K. Gerts, and A.A. Kotlyarevsky. Special educational scientific institution is the Saint Petersburg Archaeological Institute founded by N.V. Kalachov in 1877. It trains artful paleographers and experts of archives. Another archaeological institute was founded in Constantinople in 1894 for studying Byzantine antiquity.

 At present there are a great number of scientific societies majoring in archeology in Russia.

The main collections of antiquities:

Armoury Chamber in Moscow harbours the relics of the Great Treasury, i.e. inherited treasures of Moscow tsars;
     Emperor’s Russian History Museum founded in 1883;
     Peter the Great’s Kunstkammer (Cabinet of rarities) in Saint Petersburg;
     The Hermitage in Saint Petersburg along with its subsidiary Kerch Museum;
     Collections of Emperor’s Academy of Arts;
     Russian Museum of Emperor Alexander III in Saint Petersburg;
     Art Museum in Pavlovsk;
     Saint Petersburg Artillery Museum;
     Marine Museum;
     Museums of archeological societies;
     Local Museums in almost all principal cities;
     Church museums and collections, with Patriarch’s (Synodal) Sacristy at the head, and others.


Tags: Russian history Russian Archeology    

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