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Soviet ArchaeologyTrends, Schools, and History$

Leo S. Klejn

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780199601356

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: March 2015

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:osobl/9780199601356.001.0001

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A. A. Formozov

A. A. Formozov

On L. S. Klejn’s book The Phenomenon of Soviet Archaeology and on the Phenomenon Itself1

Soviet Archaeology
Oxford University Press

L. S. Klejn’s book The Phenomenon of Soviet Archaeology was published simultaneously in St Petersburg and Barcelona (in Spanish translation) in 1993. Its appearance is certainly timely, and the book itself merits attention and detailed analysis.

The seventy-five years of communist rule in Russia have come to an end, having determined, if not everything, then a very great deal in any area of Russian life, and in archaeology in particular. Clearly the time has come when we must assess the outcomes of that period, dividing that which should long ago have been rejected from that which reflected the advance of learning, hence requiring retention and development. Among the older generation we frequently observe an uncritical, even panegyric attitude to the majority of the phenomena of the past. Among young people, on the other hand, totally negative evaluations of the same phenomena are widespread. What is needed is a calm, objective discussion.

Unfortunately, the archaeological institutions of Russia show no inclination to set such a discussion in train. It was in Brezhnev’s time that the present heads of these institutions came to the fore. Youth has not yet put forward its leaders. The initiative must come from those archaeologists who have been out of the spotlight, on the fringe. L. S. Klejn is one. I am another.

L. S. Klejn’s book is of interest to Western readers for different reasons. There are only two books on the fate of archaeology in the USSR in languages accessible to them: that of the Rostov professor M. A. Miller (1956), who went to the West with German occupation troops, and that of the Soviet archaeologist A. L. Mongayt (1955, translations 1959, 1962, 1970). Both deal only with the early stages of the development. Both are highly tendentious, though in different ways.

Both Russian and Western readers must be aware that L. S. Klejn’s book is not strictly an academic work either, but rather one in the publicist genre, a pamphlet, albeit striking, even brilliant in parts. All the consequences follow (p.356) from that: some things receive far too much emphasis, some are muted or passed over entirely in silence, and some deliberately exaggerated and accentuated. The laws of the genre and tactical considerations called for that. Many important events in the life of the USSR were not reflected in print. Contemporaries remembered them; their descendants heard tales of them. Yet memory is imperfect and tales inaccurate. A number of inaccuracies and what are simply errors have found their way also into L. S. Klejn’s book.

It is based on an article published in 1982 in English in the journal World Archaeology (vol. 14, no.13) over three signatures: V. A. Bulkin, L. S. Klejn, and G. S. Lebedev. At that time it was a bold step to publish abroad an article containing evaluations of people and events which did not coincide with official views. The authors had no desire to be subject to repression on that account, and had frequent recourse to vague formulations, carefully avoiding certain matters. Twelve years later, following the enormous changes which have taken place in Russia, that text looks quite different from how it did when it appeared. Aware of this, L. S. Klejn has made additions to the previous text: some sentences in chapters IV and three new chapters, VIVIII (though probably before August 1991) [referring to the Russian edition; chapter numbers have now changed]. They are more to the point than was the basic text, but the book consequently has a certain ambivalence. The Russian edition of the book ends with an appendix: an article on V. G. Childe and Soviet archaeology written in 1992. In it many ‘i’s are finally dotted and ‘t’s crossed.

For whom does L. S. Klejn speak? First of all, naturally, for himself. Yet he wants the reader to gain the impression that there exists some new, progressive generation of Russian archaeologists which has firm ideas on what it will take from the older generation and what not. Mainly these are L. S. Klejn’s pupils who graduated from Leningrad University in the 1960s and 1970s. There are some others named as allies, ideologically close to them. The selection of names appeared strange to me. Some have nothing yet to show. The others are so heterogeneous that it is quite impossible to join them together in one group. In connection with this I must say something about myself.

L. S. Klejn mentions me several times (only once critically), more often than many more archaeologists of greater merit (some are not named at all). The impression is given that L. S. Klejn and I are very close in our basic positions and in our assessments of the situation in our discipline. This is by no means the case.

We are coevals. We received our degrees in archaeology together in 1951, he in Leningrad and I in Moscow. From our student years we said that not all was well in Soviet archaeology and we pushed for change. Those who stood at the helm of our discipline did not like it. Consequently we both had meagre finance for excavations. By no means everything we wrote was (p.357) published. We could not defend Doctoral dissertations. We were not sent abroad or to international congresses. That is as far as our resemblance goes.

The son of a Moscow University professor, I was brought up to respect the traditions of Russian learning of the late nineteenth–early twentieth centuries, positivist in spirit. I believe that those traditions were broken with and crushed following the revolution, whereas they merit revival and development. Those traditions are alien to L. S. Klejn, a native of multilingual Vitebsk in the far west of the country (now Belarus). He leans toward the theoreticians of the Soviet epoch and the latest trends of archaeology abroad. L. S. Klejn has always asserted that he was a loyal Marxist, and reproached both foreign and Soviet scholars for their inadequate understanding and utilization of the achievements of Marxism. In his autobiographical notes he says that he was never inclined to dissidence, but that he was a thinker. In the conclusion to The Phenomenon (p. 92) he thought it necessary to say that the significance of Marxism for archaeology was perhaps exaggerated, but even now was in no way at an end. As for myself, L. S. Klejn correctly observed (p. 82) that I was one of those Soviet archaeologists who never wrote about Marxism-Leninism.

Since I stood alone, I irritated my superiors less than did a very active L. S. Klejn, surrounded as he was by youth and seeking contact with foreigners. As a result the course of my life was much more favourable than his. Against that, during Perestroika L. S. Klejn caught up considerably, travelled round a number of European countries giving lectures, and received his Doctoral degree. My professional situation did not change, and perhaps became somewhat worse.

I have not brought this up in order to contrast my ‘correct’ position with L. S. Klejn’s ‘incorrect’ position. My position probably appears to young people to be immeasurably archaic and evanescent, while L. S. Klejn’s is in some way the opposite. The point is merely that these are different positions.

For whom will I speak? Mainly, of course, for myself, yet I think that my position was tacitly shared by a number of scholars from the generation of my teachers whose names come close to being omitted from L. S. Klejn’s review, but whom I will mention. Among my contemporaries I have fewer allies, and very few among the young.

So let us address the phenomenon of Soviet archaeology. Throughout the world, archaeologists excavate, classify, and systematize their finds, and thus draw what historical conclusions they can. Soviet archaeologists did the same. So what is special about them? For L. S. Klejn it is that in Soviet archaeological literature propositions and statements can be found which are absent from or seldom found in Western literature. To me that circumstance is secondary, or at any rate not the most important.

Prominent in our scientific press of the 1920s–1940s was the writing of people who had no relation whatsoever to archaeology and science. Between (p.358) the late 1920s and the early 1930s these were commissars placed by Communist Party decisions at the head of GAIMK: F. V. Kiparisov, S. N. Bykovsky, and others. L. S. Klejn calls them ‘historians’ (p. 20). In reality Bykovsky was a student of mathematics who did not complete his course, a commissar during the Civil War, and a member of the organs of repression, the Cheka. Kiparisov was educated as a philologist, but never worked in that area and was a high official in the trade unions. The Communist Party gave him the task of destroying the traditions of pre-revolutionary Russian archaeology. They carried out their task by getting rid of the most qualified scholars (some of whom were soon repressed) and replacing them with noisy and aggressive komsomol [Communist Party youth organization] members (A. N. Bernshtam, P. I. Boriskovsky, Ye. Yu. Krichevsky, and A. P. Okladnikov). Then they were removed. L. S. Klejn bewails their loss alongside the loss of genuine scholars: B. S. Zhukov, A. A. Miller, P. S. Rykov, and G. I. Borovka (p. 22). I take that as blasphemy. The opuses of Bykovsky which filled GAIMK publications did not derive from the development of Russian archaeology itself. They were Party directives foisted from above. The main body of archaeologists had to take them into account, but this they did purely formally, striving not to break with scholarly principles.

What was done by Bykovsky and his followers cannot be compared with the sincere efforts of the young Moscow archaeologists of the 1920s (A. V. Artsikhovsky, S. V. Kiselev, and A. P. Smirnov) to assimilate Marxism in order to enrich the traditional methods of archaeology. To L. S. Klejn it is all the same (p. 18 f.). Yes, some things coincided in the phraseology, but words are less important than deeds. For Artsikhovsky that meant the establishment of the Novgorod expedition, which has for half a century made a comprehensive study of a remarkable monument of ancient Russian culture, and the leadership over forty years of the Department of Archaeology of Moscow State University, where dozens of qualified archaeologists were trained. For Bykovsky it meant only the exposure of class enemies, the foisting onto scholars of primitive dogma, alien to them, and repressions.

The Communist Party’s infiltration into science of its own people, both ignorant and aggressive, is a feature not only of the 1920s and 1930s. During the 1970s and 1980s I. I. Artemenko, an official of the same type, headed the huge Institute of Archaeology of the Academy of Sciences of the Ukraine. Nevertheless, L. S. Klejn is prepared to count him among the group of serious scholars (p. 42). He does the same for G. I. Matyushin (p. 34), known for juggling the material from his excavations (SA commented on this three times). Yes, all these persons named are, formally speaking, Soviet archaeologists. Yes, we all bear responsibility for what happened in this country and in this discipline, but the degree of responsibility varies.

A feature of the 1940s–1960s was the use in archaeological publications of a very restricted, standard selection of quotations from Marx, Engels, Lenin, (p.359) and Stalin with the sole objective of lending an appearance of modernity and orthodoxy to works which in essence were totally traditional. This is what the Soviet satirists I. Ilf and Ye. Petrov called ‘paying one’s ideological tribute’. Leading articles on the USSR’s jubilees, Party congresses, and so on were obligatory in the periodical press. These mandatory official writings are of minimal value. The article by V. A. Bashilov and V. V. Volkov analysed by L. S. Klejn (p. 14 f.) contains precisely such a selection of empty phrases. Nothing more was required of the editorial board of the journal, and it is unlikely that anyone read the text apart from the proof-readers.

L. S. Klejn attaches great importance to the devices of Aesopian language in Soviet archaeology. He devotes the whole of chapter VIII (pp. 81–7) to telling how cunningly he formulated various propositions which were not particularly acceptable at a given time. Even if all was so, I see it as being of little interest now.

More important to me are not those who hectored from podiums, composed leading articles, and organized discussions, but those who did real work. Dearer to me than those once vociferous pundits and polemicists are the humble museum workers who wrote no more than three or four articles in their whole life, who had no degrees or rank, yet who preserved our cultural heritage. I hold university lecturers also in high esteem. Some of them published very little (B. N. Grakov only fifty-one works), yet they established schools which worked productively. The meeting rooms of academic councils would resound to murderous speeches and fiery calls to action, but life went on.

As I see it, the specific nature of Soviet archaeology was determined, not by some kind of war of words, but by two fundamental circumstances.

First: unlike most countries of Western Europe, pre-revolutionary Russia was a country archaeologically little explored. This was due not to the low qualifications of Russian archaeologists (their level was quite high), but to the fact that there were extremely few specialists for the boundless spaces of Russia. Whole teams of professional scholars had been engaged in archaeological explorations on the compact territories of Britain, France, Spain, Italy, and Germany for the entire nineteenth century, and in some places even longer. By the early twentieth century the basic types of remains had been discovered and classified. Here only the northern Black Sea area, the Ukraine, and the central Russian plain had been dealt with. Over the vast area of Siberia only some remains in the vicinity of large towns had been studied. The northern belt of Europe and Asia had not been touched. Only a few amateurs had worked on the antiquities of Central Asia. Pre-Muslim remains were totally unknown. The Transcaucasus, the region of the most ancient human settlement in the country, the site of highly developed Bronze Age, classical, and medieval cultures, had been very little investigated. Even in the Black Sea area some regions had escaped the attention of archaeologists, for instance Bessarabia, now Moldova.

(p.360) So Russian archaeologists in the twentieth century had first of all to explore sufficiently fully the territory of their own state, identify the main types of remains typical of a particular region, then proceed to classify and systematize them and to make historical sense of the facts assembled. The problem of the protection of remains was also urgent. There was no law relating to this in Tsarist Russia.

Meanwhile the conditions under which these objectives were to be attained were most unfavourable. The cause was the second factor: from 1917 onwards science developed under totalitarian conditions. If L. S. Klejn mentions the first factor only in passing (p. 61 f.), he takes full account of the second. He understands that many directives were foisted on archaeologists from above. Slavery and slave revolutions were required to be written about, and the qualified classical historian S. L. Zhebelev invented such a revolution in the Bosphoran kingdom. Dissidents were threatened with repression. L. S. Klejn presents an incomplete list of victims (p. 22).

In my view, however, something else is more significant. The very idea of a cultural heritage, its study, preservation, and assimilation, was organically alien to the communist masters of the land. Everything was to begin from October 1917. The ‘old’ was declared unneeded, even harmful, as something diverting people from the building of communism.

Hence the pitiful situation of museums in the USSR. Many museums established by the intelligentsia after the revolution in order to rescue cultural treasures condemned to destruction by the sack of the gentry’s estates, the monasteries, and the churches were subsequently closed. In 1989 the USSR was in 28th place in the world for the number of museums per million of population. Only 43 per cent of the towns of Russia had museums. Priceless collections were sold abroad, while run-of-the-mill archaeological material was simply tossed out of the repositories. In the 1930s museum staff suffered mass repression.

The campaigns to destroy architectural monuments in the USSR are also well known. The blowing up of the Church of Christ the Saviour in Moscow is normally the instance remembered. Yet this was a mid-nineteenth-century church, while complexes like the twelfth-century Saint Michael’s Golden Domed Monastery in Kiev, with its mosaics and frescos, were also destroyed.

Like all despotic powers, the USSR was constantly building canals and reservoirs. In so doing it flooded hundreds of historical monuments, and not only ones of lesser significance. An entire medieval city on the Lower Don was inundated: the Khazar Sarkel—the Russian Belaya Vezha.

Given such an attitude to the cultural heritage, it was immeasurably hard to undertake its study and preservation. Scholars sometimes paid for it with their lives. N. E. Makarenko, who fought for the eleventh-century Saint Sophia’s Cathedral and the twelfth-century Saint Michael’s Golden Domed Monastery in Kiev, was shot in 1938. (L. S. Klejn has not even remembered (p.361) this great scholar, who researched the Neolithic burials at Mariupol and the early Slav township at Romenskoye. Makarenko was our genuine hero and martyr.)

Following the revolution, the study of monuments of Christian art and the development of genealogy and heraldry ceased for a long period, as disciplines not needed by the proletariat. The regional learned archival commissions, which had contributed to the development of archaeology, were dissolved. The discipline itself came under threat. The institutes teaching archaeology and the Moscow and Russian (in St Petersburg) Archaeological Societies were closed, and the traditional holding of archaeological congresses was stopped. It was no accident that in 1919 the Archaeological Commission was transformed into the Academy of the History of Material Culture, and in 1932 the term ‘archaeology’ was officially declared bourgeois and incompatible with Marxism.

If archaeology survived, then at first it was because it dealt with material, not spiritual, culture and was recognized as useful for anti-religious propaganda (hence the burgeoning of Palaeolithic research in the USSR in the 1920s). From the end of the 1930s onwards, archaeology was brought into the propaganda of patriotism and respect for ‘great ancestors’. The excavations of Novgorod Veliky, Kiev, Mtskheta in Georgia, Karmir-Blur and Dvin in Armenia, Otrar in Kazakhstan, and so on, which began before the Second World War and were greatly expanded following it, became possible in that context.

Having recognized archaeology’s right to exist, however, the Party leadership of the country was not about to permit archaeologists to work in the way the experience of Russian and world science led them, but dictated to them what was needed and what not, what was ideologically sound and what not. Hence, work on ‘megaphone’ topics was encouraged (the origin of the Slavs, and the ancient history of a region), but ‘artefactology’, that is, work on classifying and systematizing finds, without which generalizations were impossible, was condemned. ‘Biologization’, that is, the study of antiquities in close connection with the natural environment and the application of biological methods to archaeological materials, was declared harmful. All the researchers in the ‘palaeoethnological’ school, who spoke out for close links between archaeology and the natural sciences (B. S. Zhukov, B. A. Kuftin, G. A. Bonch-Osmolovsky, A. A. Miller, S. A. Teploukhov, S. I. Rudenko, M. P. Gryaznov) were repressed in the early 1930s, and not all returned from the camps.

It was the rigid diktat of Party dunces and those scholars who, for the sake of their career, were to implement the demands imposed from above which made the work of archaeologists in the USSR extremely difficult. In that context the necessity when appropriate to cite Marx or Stalin does not seem to be crucial. I believe that L. S. Klejn significantly underestimates that circumstance.

(p.362) Let us see, however, how, in the situation then existing, Soviet archaeologists approached the problems set them by science, not by the CPSU.

On the territory of the USSR opportunities for fieldwork opened up from the mid-1920s and on a large scale especially after the Second World War. The numerous expeditions of A. P. Okladnikov and his pupils covered the whole of Eastern Siberia, including the Far North and Far East. A great deal was achieved in Central Asia. There, hundreds of sites of the prehistoric era were discovered, ranging from the Early Palaeolithic to early farming oases, and abandoned towns with outstanding works of art: Toprak-Kala, Varakhsha, Penjikent, and so on. Turkestan, unknown at the beginning of the twentieth century, came to be recognized as an area which was by no means homogeneous, but constituted a complicated system of relationships among farming and nomadic peoples, and among Hellenistic, ancient oriental, and steppe traditions. Excavations went on actively in the Transcaucasus also, embracing sites ranging from the Early Palaeolithic to the developed medieval. Striking remains from the Bronze and Early Iron Ages, and the ruins of towns with cultures of the Hellenistic and Near Asian types, were of particular importance.

In 1934 Soviet archaeologists succeeded in obtaining the passage of a law which said that all construction sites were obliged to make available to researchers funds to excavate sites which were to be flooded or destroyed. As a result, numerous cultural treasures were saved, from thousands of kurgans in the steppe belt to medieval cities. Leading articles in our journals wrote that archaeologists were proud to take part in the great construction sites of communism. It is something else we should be proud of: to some extent we were able to rescue the country’s vanishing cultural heritage.

Thus the study in the field of the antiquities of the USSR proceeded without interruption and on a large scale. Unfortunately, not everything went well. We had specialists expertly excavating Palaeolithic sites (M. V. Voyevodsky and A. N. Rogachev), kurgans (M. P. Gryaznov), ancient cities (V. D. Blavatsky), medieval cultural layers with surviving wooden structures (A. V. Artsikhovsky and B. A. Kolchin in Novgorod), and others. Nevertheless there was always a shortage of funds and most expeditions worked on a reduced schedule with extremely primitive equipment. On small expeditions a lone archaeologist acted as artist, draughtsman, photographer, and conservationist. Geologists, soil scientists, palaeozoologists, and palaeo-botanists were not included even in big expeditions. Cooperation with them was at first regarded as a survival of ‘biologization’, which had been declared harmful, and then continuing tradition saw them as not mandatory.

At the new construction sites it was not the archaeologists who dictated the timetable to the construction organizations, but the builders who set a pace unacceptable to the researchers. In Moscow in 1933–4, when observing the construction of the Metro, only individual ancient artefacts could be (p.363) grabbed from under the spades of the navvies. The plan of medieval roads and estates, even the profile of deposits, could not be recorded. In the 1940s excavations at Mingechaur in Azerbaijan had to go on round the clock. At night searchlights were used to open ancient tombs. In the 1970s and 1980s some expeditions to new construction sites went out into the field in April, when snow still lay on the ground, and returned in October, when snow had already fallen.

In a nutshell, fieldwork was carried out not calmly and deliberately, but under strain, tension, and stress, which was typical of the whole of Soviet life. The feats of labour were achieved at the price of extreme overstrain on the part of the achievers, which was reflected in the quality of work. Buildings which were hurriedly put up collapsed. There were explosions, with catastrophic results, at nuclear power stations. It was the same for us. So much material was found that there was nowhere to store it, nor anyone to restore and process it. The overwhelming majority of the collections obtained by expeditions to new construction sites has not become accessible to researchers. There are in general in Soviet archaeological literature very few prime publications dealing with the excavation of the most significant monuments. The point is that to write books with global conclusions was encouraged, whereas work on ‘trivia’ was not.

Also indicative was the passion of certain archaeologists (the very same A. P. Okladnikov) for sensations, and the urge to present quite ordinary material as discoveries of worldwide significance, all for the sake of gaining financial support. The actual relationship of phenomena was thus distorted. In this way rock art produced relatively recently by Siberian aborigines was made out to be Palaeolithic and Neolithic.

L. S. Klejn does not touch on this whole circle of topics at all. He says that the territories of Western Europe and the USSR have been studied to very different degrees, and regrets that we have few archaeologists. The point, however, is not the quantity but the quality of research. While secure excavations are vital in new construction zones, in some areas are they not only not mandatory, but even damaging where the investigations are badly managed. How many sites have been excavated merely so that some lecturer in a provincial pedagogical institute could write another Ancient History and get his Doctoral degree?

The second stage of research is the systemization and classification of material. Here our discipline had good traditions, established before the revolution by A. A. Spitsyn and V. A. Gorodtsov. In the early 1920s S. A. Teploukhov produced a periodization of the archaeological monuments of the Central Yenisey which still stands. The struggle against ‘artefactology’ in the 1930s, however, bore its own fruit. The expectation was that broad historical conclusions should be drawn immediately, practically while still in the field. Since many take up archaeology for the sake of the romance of the (p.364) quest and have no affection for boring business with collections, these bad instructions found easy acceptance. People knew that it was easier to publish an Ancient History of one region or another than to classify ceramics or flint tools. Hence very few works in the area of classification of archaeological material were published in the USSR. There were among them some which were of great value: G. A. Bonch-Osmolovsky and S. I. Zamyatnin on the Palaeolithic, M. Ye. Foss on the Neolithic, T. S. Passek on the Tripolye culture, B. A. Kuftin and A. A. Iessen on the Early Metal Age in the Caucasus, M. P. Gryaznov and S. V. Kiselev on the Bronze and Iron Ages of Western Siberia, O. A. Grakova on the Bronze Age in the steppe belt, A. V. Shmidt and A. P. Smirnov on antiquities along the Volga and in the vicinity of the Urals, A. K. Ambroz on the period of the migrations of peoples, G. F. Korzukhina on hoards from the late first and early second millennia, and A. V. Artsikhovky and V. V. Sedov on ancient Russian kurgans.

As in all sectors of Soviet life, conscientious workers in this area went totally unappreciated. S. A. Teploukhov could publish only ten works, G. A. Bonch-Osmolovsky thirty-nine, S. N. Zamyatnin fifty-one, M. Ye. Foss fifty-seven, and A. A. Iessen sixty-four. Zamyatnin, Iessen, Grakova, and Korzukhina did not have Doctoral degrees (compare these with the thousand slipshod publications of A. P. Okladnikov, Academician, Laureate of Stalin and State Prizes, and Hero of Socialist Labour).

Time eventually puts everything in its proper place. In the volume The Palaeolithic in the USSR, in the series Archaeology of the USSR (1984), the author most often cited was S. N. Zamyatnin, who died twenty-six years before it was published. Second and third places were also taken by authors with no more than Candidate’s degrees, and A. P. Okladnikov was in fourth.

Yet L. S. Klejn, in The Phenomenon of Soviet Archaeology, does not even mention half the scholars I have named, and the rest he mentions only incidentally. Evidently he is not free of the officially recognized hierarchy. This is strange. According to L. S. Klejn, archaeology is, after all, not a historical but a source-study discipline. It follows that he must give priority to precisely those archaeologists who were skilful in directing excavations and excellent at classifying their finds, not to the authors of Ancient Histories. But no: L. S. Klejn finds more congenial not those scholars, but the ‘theoreticians’, even those of the Bykovsky type.

The development of the discipline presented its demands, and, in the 1950s B. A. Rybakov conceived the series Compendium of Archaeological Sources of the USSR, and, in the 1970s, Archaeology of the USSR in Twenty Volumes. L. S. Klejn’s attitude to this initiative is positive. Mine also. Yet neither publication was completed, and one cannot conceal that the volumes which did appear indicate clearly the extreme decline of classificatory work among Soviet archaeologists. Each individual author, even within a single volume of Archaeology of the USSR, has his own approach to his material, (p.365) taking no account of what has been done earlier, or even at the same time, on adjacent pages. The discord is monstrous, and, alas, another feature of the phenomenon in which we are interested. L. S. Klejn passes over it.

The third stage is the historical interpretation of the results of archaeological excavations. In this area also we have achievements: books by P. P. Yefimenko, Primeval Society (1938) for the Palaeolithic; A. P. Kruglov and G. V. Podgayetsky, Clan Society of the Eastern European Steppes (1935), for the Bronze Age (L. S. Klejn with no grounds whatsoever attributes authorship to B. A. Latynin: pp. 19, 91, 100.—The mistake has been corrected.— L.K.); V. M. Masson, Central Asia and the Ancient East (1964); B. B. Piotrovsky, The Kingdom of Van (1962); S. V. Kiselev, The Ancient History of Southern Siberia (1949); B. I. Grakov, The Scythians (1971); V.F. Gaydukevich, The Kingdom of the Bosphorus (1949); M. I. Artamonov, History of the Khazars (1969); and A. P. Smirnov, The Bulgars of the Volga (1951). There is much that is interesting in the works of P. N. Tretyakov, S. P. Tolstov, B. A. Rybakov, and V. L. Yanin.

Nevertheless, the conditions in which books of this kind were written had their effect. There often occurred that which we evasively called ‘a consumer attitude to sources’, or ‘overstretching sources’, in other words, the use of unsound material to support crucial conclusions, sometimes pre-imposed, and disregard for a critical approach to sources.

Let us take two widely known books by two outstanding scholars. Ancient Khorezm was written by S. P. Tolstov following four seasons of fieldwork with very limited excavations, basically from surface materials. Yet his deductions were most wide-ranging: slave-owning in Central Asia, the crisis of the slave-owning structure, the inception of feudalism, and so on. Yakutia’s Past Before Annexation to the Russian State was published by A. P. Okladnikov following six field seasons, mainly during the war years. Essentially there were no excavations at all. Yet a highly complex scheme of the ethnic history of Siberia was built upon poorly documented finds collected on the surface. Tolstov and Okladnikov were notably gifted people. There was much that they were able to divine intuitively, although no less a number of their deductions have not stood the test of time. Yet how many imitators did these scholars have, imitators who did not even in a small degree possess their talents, who nevertheless busily published generalizing works after a few seasons in the field and without any serious processing of material? This also was a feature of the Soviet era, known as window dressing and padding. Reports and bulletins would carry accounts of unprecedented harvests and soaring production. In reality, yields and output were falling year by year, and statistics were falsified.

There was in certain circles a very strong urge to respond to each round of political slogans and to accommodate them. In this the champion was A. P. Okladnikov. He would laud N. Ya. Marr as the founder of Marxist (p.366) archaeology, then, after Stalin’s articles on linguistics, brand him as a pseudo-scientific vulgarizer of Marxism. He would describe Tsarist colonial policy in Siberia, then attest the voluntary accession of the Siberian peoples to Russia. He would speak of the huge influence of China’s great culture on the Far East, then totally deny such influence.

The Communist Party’s nationalist directives in the 1940s and 1950s were vigorously implemented by certain historians and archaeologists prepared to show the country’s past in a highly tendentious light. Following the Crimean session of the USSR Academy of Sciences in 1952 and the directives contained in the addresses by B. D. Grekov and B. A. Rybakov, any role of the Goths, Huns, Khazars, Scandinavians, or Tartars in the history of Eastern Europe was denied. Archaeologists were forced to seek the remains of ancient Slavs in areas where their appearance was quite late. Clearly, in all the instances described here there could be no honest search for the truth.

Such tendencies in our discipline were bound to evoke protest in the next generation of archaeologists. It took various forms. My article ‘On the Critique of Sources in Archaeology’ (SA 1977, 1), which L. S. Klejn mentions, is an appeal for honesty in science, for a halt to the use of unsound materials and to all kinds of speculative constructions.

V. F. Gening, Yu. N. Zakharuk, and L. S. Klejn took another course. They believed that the first thing to be done was to work out a theory of archaeology, since it alone would lead us away from the clearly wrong road onto which we had strayed. The innovators were welcomed by many, and I was not hostile to their enterprise. However, the development of a theory did not proceed as rank-and-file archaeologists had expected. Since they had no knowledge of foreign languages, Yu. N. Zakharuk and V. F. Gening simply ignored the extensive foreign literature on the theory of archaeology, calling it idealist and bourgeois. As a starting point for their constructions they took the writings of Soviet philosophers, dogmatists like P. I. Fedoseyev (a dull Party functionary parachuted into science). These theoreticians of Soviet archaeology indulged in scholastic disputes on the question of where the object and where the subject of archaeology lie. The audience lost interest in this direction.

I do not wish to suggest that all these ventures in the area of archaeological theory were fruitless. There were those which merit attention: the attempts of I. S. Kamenetsky and Yu. A. Smirnov to compose a universal code for describing ancient burials, and of G. A. Fedorov-Davydov to apply mathematical methods to the classification of archaeological collections. L. S. Klejn’s books Archaeological Sources (1978) and Archaeological Typology (English edn. 1982, Russian edn. 1991) are also of interest. Nevertheless, as the reader can see, I do not attach such importance to the theoretical productions of Soviet archeologists as L. S. Klejn does.

(p.367) I believe that theory must not soar somewhere in the sky far above empirical work, but be part of it at all stages: at excavations, in understanding remains as an entire system of connections; at the classification of collections, in the skilful use of methods developed above all on a biological basis (stratigraphic analysis, typology, and so on).

What was the outcome? I believe that Russian archaeologists of the twentieth century basically fulfilled their duty to learning. They researched and rescued from destruction thousands of relics, are completing a precursory survey of the country, and have made significant steps in the classification and historical interpretation of material excavated. However, in the years of totalitarianism the course of our science was distorted. Many remains were lost or poorly researched. The protection of historical monuments was never properly arranged. Museums and the preservation of collections were in a woeful state.

The stage was occupied by functionaries who cared not for science but for personal advancement, and who would play fast and loose with facts to suit the political situation. Sometimes they were gifted people, sometimes very ordinary bureaucrats. These bad examples placed before the younger generation heavily influenced the course it took. There are now thousands of archaeologists in Russia, where in the 1950s and 1960s they were numbered in hundreds, and before the revolution in tens. They have their uses, yet most are least concerned with the protection of monuments, meticulous excavations, conscientious reports and publications, or the preservation and classification of collections. They are attracted by academic degrees and titles, and striking, but weakly substantiated deductions.

Overall this situation seems not to disturb L. S. Klejn. His concentration on theoretical discussions leads to this very divorce from the work which lies at the base of our discipline. It was this base which was undermined during the years of communist rule, and it is its restoration which must be considered first.

It is difficult to predict the future. L. S. Klejn is optimistic: totalitarianism has collapsed; hence an outburst of free thought is to be expected. I am more pessimistic. There was in the past no comprehension of the part played by the cultural heritage in the life of society, and there is none now. It is regrettable that funds for excavations and publications have been severely cut. Nevertheless, it is something else which disturbs me: whether excavations will now be well managed, and what will be in forthcoming books. I fear that the market will impose on science laws no less alien to its spirit than did the totalitarian state. Museums, especially in the provinces, are on the brink of disaster. Links among scholars from the former republics of the USSR have broken down, and, despite L.S. Klejn’s prediction (p. 69), it is unlikely that this will change for the better in the near future.

(p.368) The main thing which is now needed is steady work day by day to strengthen the base of our discipline, not pseudo-sensationalism and hasty deductions to attract ignorant clients. Of course new ideas are also needed, and a conception of the place of archaeology in the life of society which takes into account the experience of Russian life throughout the years, including the Soviet years.

Sooner or later this concept will be devised. For this to happen, all facets and all stages of our work will have to be discussed. L. S. Klejn’s book provides an impetus for this discussion. Its appearance is thus justified. However, as the reader perceives, I do not share the majority of the assessments made by the author of The Phenomenon of Soviet Archaeology.

Institute of Archaeology, RAN, Moscow


(1) The following text is a translation of Formozov 1995a.