History of Siberian Archaeology: The Life and Works of Aleksei P. Okladnikov in 1961–1981

Yaroslav V. Kuzmin, from the Sobolev Institute of Geology and Mineralogy, Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences (Novosibirsk, Russia), introduces A. K. Konopatskii’s book on the investigations of prehistoric archaeology of Siberia, Mongolia, and the Aleutian Islands (Alaska, USA), conducted by prominent Soviet scholar Aleksei P. Okladnikov (1908–1981) and his colleagues in the 1960s – 1970s.

Archaeopress is very pleased to have published Volume II of A. K. Konopatskii’s biography of Soviet archaeologist Aleksei P. Okladnikov as part of its ongoing Archaeological Lives series.

It is about the life and works of Aleksei P. Okladnikov in 1961–1981, when he was organiser (1961–1966) and since 1966 the Director of the Institute of History, Philology, and Philosophy, Siberian Branch of the USSR Academy of Sciences, in Novosibirsk. This institute was a part of large-scale project of Akademgorodok (Academic Town) built in 1957–1964, the unique phenomenon of Soviet science (see Josephson 1997).

Okladnikov went to the Akademgorodok for the first time in 1960, and was invited to move to Novosibirsk permanently, in order to organise the institute devoted to the study of the humanities in Siberia. Okladnikov felt the necessity to have free hands in order to continue his archaeological and historical pursuits in Siberia, the Russian Far East and Central Asia; also, the possibility to become a member of the Academy of Sciences in the near future was another important factor in favour of a move to Novosibirsk. In 1961, Okladnikov arrived in Akademgorodok to settle down. The Sector (i.e. Department) of History of the Industry was created within the existing Institute of Economics and Industrial Production Engineering (IEIPE). Okladnikov brought with him several archaeologists, historians, and philologists. In 1962, the Sector became the Department of Study of the Humanities, still attached to the IEIPE. In December 1966, the new Institute of History, Philology and Philosophy (IHPP) was officially opened, and Okladnikov was appointed as its Director. It had 120 employees, and consisted of three departments – History (including archaeology and ethnology), Philology, and Philosophy. The main task of the new institute was not only to conduct research but also to coordinate efforts in the field of humanities for all Siberia and the Russian Far East.

In Novosibirsk, Okladnikov continued extensive fieldworks in Siberia and the Russian Far East. Of particular importance were surveys and excavations in the Lake Baikal region (both Pribaikal’e and Zabaikal’e), headwaters of the Lena River, Altai Mountains, Kuznetsk Basin, and Primor’e and Priamur’e regions. Active fieldwork were also conducted in Mongolia in collaboration with Mongolian archaeologists. The ability of Okladnikov to find new archaeological sites was legendary; some people truly believed that he could become ‘prehistoric human’ to understand where to set up camp or permanent settlement. Of course, this talent was the result of his vast expertise in the study of ancient sites, and his intuition. In the 1960s and 1970s, Okladnikov also widely traveled abroad for conferences and business meetings – to Japan, Cuba, Hungary, USA, North Korea, Poland, India, and Czechoslovakia.

Figure 1. Meeting with Oriental scholar O. Lattimore in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, 1971; from left to right: A. P. Derevyanko, O. Lattimore, D. Dorj, V. E. Larichev, A.P. Okladnikov and N. Ser-Odjav.

In 1964, Okladnikov was elected the Member-Correspondents of the Academy of Sciences, filling the quota of the Siberian Branch of the USSR Academy of Sciences. In 1968, he was elevated to the title of a Full Member (Academician). As a matter of fact, Okladnikov was given carte blanche to conduct archaeological, historical and other related research in all of Siberia, the Russian Far East, and Central Asia. The IHPP scholars were also the main workforce of the newly created Faculty of Humanities, Novosibirsk State University.

From the beginning of research in humanities at the Akademgorodok, the compilation of multi-volume History of Siberia was put forward as one of the major tasks, and Okladnikov was the main motor of this enterprise. In 1964, the 700 pages prospectus of Volume 1 (Ancient History) was compiled, printed and distributed among scholars. In 1968–1969, five volumes of the History of Siberia were published, and this was the first comprehensive (for the time being) compendium on archaeology and history of a large region. Okladnikov contributed the lion share of editorial work for the whole collection, and wrote several chapters for Volume 1. In 1973, this fundamental research was awarded the State Prize, with Okladnikov as a co-recipient.

Figure 2. Joint US–Soviet team at the Unalaska Island (Aleutian Islands), 1974; from left to right: A. K. Konopatskii, W. S. Laughlin, A. P. Derevyanko, R. S. Vasil’evskii, A. P. Okladnikov and V. E. Larichev.

In 1974, Okladnikov and four of his colleagues from IHPP participated in trips and joint excavations on the Aleutian Islands, Alaska, USA, along with Prof. William S. Laughlin (University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT, USA). This was a rare example of the real collaboration, that is joint expeditions and excavations. Campbell (1976: 3) noted:

The Aleutian project of 1974 constituted, both in intent and practice, quite a radical departure from the general pattern of exchange visits between North American and Soviet anthropologists, biologists and earth scientists, which, while they have resulted in very useful comparison of data and ideas, have rarely involved actual field research under the conditions which the visiting scientists enjoyed at home. Purely and simply, therefore, the Aleutian project amounted to honest joint field work, and was not a guided tour.

Figure 3. W. S. Laughlin and A. P. Okladnikov examine the skull of one of the D. Medvedev’s party of Cossacks massacred in 1764 at Chaluka (Unalaska Island), University of Connecticut, Storrs (CT), 1974.

Another of Okladnikov’s initiative in the 1960s – 1970s was to create an Open-Air (Outdoor) Museum, and bring to Akademgorodok the ancient stelae with inscriptions and pieces of rock art that are endangered by construction of large reservoirs or industrial development. A wooden church with bell tower from the abandoned town of Zashiversk in the Indigirka River basin, built in 1700 and the miraculous survivor of several fires, was rescued from the Arctic and brought in pieces to Akademgorodok in 1971. Today, this is one of the major attractions of the Open-Air Museum that was officially opened in 1981.

Figure 4. The wooden church and bell tower from the abandoned Arctic town of Zashiversk, Open-Air Museum, Akademgorodok, Novosibirsk.

Several foreign learning societies – British Academy (1973), Academy of Sciences of Mongolia (1974) and Hungarian Academy of Science (1976) – granted Okladnikov honorary membership. In 1978, Okladnikov was given the title of Hero of Socialist Labour (civil equivalent to the Hero of Soviet Union, the highest honour in USSR).

Most of Okladnikov’s biographies are panegyric, and only his achievements are described. It seems that L. S. Klejn’s opinions (see Klejn 2012: 334–338; Klejn 2014: 306–325) are more balanced. Okladnikov’s legacy is tremendous because of his many years of work in northern Asia where large tracts of land were previously unknown to archaeologists. Klejn (2012: 338) noticed about Okladnikov: ‘Not even his enemies deny his achievements, charm, and talent.’ Besides the rich artefact collections acquired throughout more than 50 years of research, Okladnikov also built a Novosibirsk school of archaeologists – including Z. A. Abramova, S. N. Astakhov, V. V. Bobrov, A. P. Derevianko, E. I. Derevianko, B. A. Frolov, Yu. P. Kholushkin, Y. F. Kiryushin, V. E. Larichev, A. I. Martynov, A. I. Mazin, V. E. Medvedev, V. I. Molodin, V. T. Petrin, R. S. Vasil’evskii, and others.

Figure 5. A. P. Okladnikov in his Director’s office with A. K. Konopatskii (right), Akademgorodok, Novosibirsk, 1978.

However, some scholars did not come along well with Okladnikov. He was quite suspicious about some Siberian archaeologists who were revising his chronology and periodisation of ancient cultural complexes – Yu. A. Mochanov from Yakutsk; G. I. Medvedev, M. P. Aksenov, G. M. Georgievskaya and other people from Irkutsk; A. A. Formozov and G. I. Andreev from Moscow; and Z. V. Andreeva from Vladivostok. Sometimes Okladnikov used his position to postpone publications of these researchers or push them from sites that he wanted to excavate by himself. It is obvious that Okladnikov had many ‘summits and bottoms’ in science; however, his achievements are probably more important today than his flaws and mistakes.

The book (including Volume I, published by Archaeopress in 2019) is for archaeologists, historians, and everyone who is interested in the history of scholarship (particularly the humanities) in the twentieth century, especially in the USSR.

Header image: A. P. Okladnikov examines the rock art at the Sakachi-Alyan site, Khabarovsk Province, 1971.

References

Campbell, J.M. (1976). The Soviet–American Siberian expedition. Arctic 29: 2–6.

Josephson, P. (1997). New Atlantis Revisited: Akademgorodok, the Siberian City of Science. Princeton, NJ & Chichester: Princeton University Press.

Klejn, L.S. (2012). Soviet Archaeology: Trends, Schools, and History. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Klejn, L.S. (2014). Istoriya Rossiiskoi Arkheologii: Ucheniya, Shkoly i Lichnosti. Tom 2. Arkheologi Sovetskoi Epokhi (The History of Russian Archaeology: Doctrines,Schools and Personalities. Volume 2. Archaeologists of the Soviet Epoch). St.Petersburg: Eurasia Press (in Russian).

About the Author

Yaroslav V. Kuzmin has been studying geoarchaeology of the Russian Far East, Siberia and neighbouring Northeast Asia since 1979 (PhD 1991; DSc. 2007). He has also assisted in translating and editing books on the archaeology of eastern Russia along with Richard L. Bland.


How to order

Aleksei P. Okladnikov: The Great Explorer of the Past
by A. K. Konopatskii, translated by Richard L. Bland and Yaroslav V. Kuzmin

Volume I: A biography of a Soviet archaeologist (1900s – 1950s):
PB: £24.99 | PDF: from £16.00

Volume II: A biography of a Soviet archaeologist (1960s – 1980s):
PB: £34.99 | PDF: from £16.00

Academic Archaeology in the USSR: Science in the Service of Ideology

Yaroslav V. Kuzmin provides a brief history of archaeology in Russia during the Soviet era

Archaeopress is very pleased to have published A. K. Konopatskii’s biography of Soviet archaeologist Aleksei P. Okladnikov as part of its ongoing ‘Archaeological Lives’ series. The following paper is an edited version of one of the introductory chapters to the biography provided by the volume’s co-translator, Yaroslav V. Kuzmin:

Throughout the existence of the USSR (1917–1991), the conditions for conducting academic research in the fields of the humanities were very different from the West.

Klejn (2012) distinguished several periods in the history of Russian/Soviet archaeology: 1) the beginnings of scientific archaeology (1850s–early 1880s); 2) archaeology as a separate field of knowledge (1880s–1910s); 3) archaeology at the time of revolution and revolution in archaeology (1917–1934); and 4) Soviet archaeology (1934–1991). It is interesting to note that the boundary between the Russian and Soviet periods is drawn not at 1917—a year of two revolutions— but later, when the ideology of Marxism-Leninism became dominant. In pre- 1917 Russia, archaeology was closely connected with ancient history, but the research on prehistoric sites was also developing. Some learning societies emerged after 1850: the Russian Archaeological Society in 1851 and, in 1864, the Moscow Archaeological Society. In 1859 the Imperial Archaeological Commission was created to oversee all excavations across Russia.

The 1917 revolutions brought the human sciences in Russia (and later on, in the USSR) to abrupt changes. The Civil War (1918–1920, in some parts of Russia until late 1922) resulted in a disastrous decline in industry; there was hunger and social strife, and the number of excavations was practically nil. Archaeological works slowly resumed after the early 1920s. The Bolshevik government, however, in 1919 created the Russian Academy for the History of Material Culture (the Russian abbreviation—RAIMK); after 1926 it was known as the Gosudarstvennaya Akademiya Istorii Materialnoi Kultury [State Academy for the History of Material Culture] (abbreviated as GAIMK). After several transformations it became the Institute for the History of Material Culture (abbreviation—IIMK), USSR Academy of Sciences in 1937, with two branches— in Moscow and Leningrad.

Okladnikov_Book_Figure_11
The building of the Institute of History of Material Culture, Leningrad/St. Petersburg.

The first head of the RAIMK/GAIMK (1919–1934) and formal leader of Soviet archaeology was Nikolai Ya. Marr, a scholar of Oriental studies. Marr was a prominent specialist in languages but not a proper linguist (Klejn 2012). Marr’s main contribution to science was ‘Japhetic theory’ (later turned into a ‘new doctrine of language’), built on the controversial idea that a Caucasian-based proto-language existed in Europe before the advent of the Indo-European languages. Marr’s doctrine was blessed by the Communist Party; he became a Party member in 1930. At that time, most of the Academy scholars were against the increasing ideological grip, and few of the Academicians were Communists; this is why the Party showered Marr with honours and titles. The archaeological implication of Marr’s ‘theory’ was that scientists were forced to explain cultural and other alterations as the result of the sudden changes in pre-existing populations, without any external influences.

The Marxist-Leninist approach in Soviet archaeology, developed in the late 1920s–early 1930s, defined the study of social changes from primitive societies to capitalism as the main research tool (see Trigger 2006: 329– 337). Archaeology was considered a part of history; there was a well-known expression by the prominent Soviet scholar Artemy V. Artsikhovsky that ‘Archaeology is history armed with a spade.’ Trigger (2006: 342) mentioned that many Soviet archaeologists truly believed in the possibility of extracting historical information from archaeological sources.

Two main ideologically driven paradigms were introduced into Soviet archaeology in the early 1930s. Trigger (2006: 327) combines them under the cultural-historical approach. Stadialism was developed mainly by Vladislav I. Ravdonikas and Sergei N. Bykovsky; it was based on the assumption that ethnic history can be presented as a series of leaps from one social stage (like slavery or feudalism) to another, without any external influence. Klejn (2012) noted that the entire idea of stadialism consisted of miraculous and unexplained transformations. However, in 1950, after the Second World War, the rise of Russian nationalism, inspired by Stalin, brought stadialism along with Marr’s entire theory to an end. Another approach, autochthonism, was employed by Marxist archaeologists to prove the origins of the Slavic people in local development, without any external influences from outside and/or migrations.

One of the main representatives of this method was Boris A. Rybakov, who was showered with positions and honours by the Soviet government and the Party (which was essentially the same thing) in the 1950s–1970s. Klejn (2012) also mentions other schools—Marxist sociologisers, doctrinaire unitarians, subdiffusionists and submigrationalists, empirics, scientification-oriented, imitators, ethnos-oriented, and ‘true’ Marxists.

Artsikhovsky and Ravdonikas, along with other younger archaeologists (notably Yevgeny Y. Krichevsky, Andrei P. Kruglov, and Yuri V. Podgaetsky) developed the ‘Marxist’ approach to the interpretation of archaeological data in 1926–1929 (see Trigger 2006: 328, 330), based on a strong assumption that technology directly determines the nature of society and ideology. The goal of the archaeologist, according to the ‘Marxist’ approach, was to reconstruct the societies that produced artefacts and not the artefacts themselves. The ‘method of ascent’ by Artsikhovsky – from artefacts to the structure of ancient society – presupposes establishing social structure by knowing only the Marxist peculiarities of the development of humanity. In this case archaeology was given the same level of reconstruction as history. But in 1932, due to change in the Party’s leading ranks that caused a shift in Communist ideology, archaeology was declared an auxiliary discipline that could only help history study the past.

There were other approaches that did not completely follow the ideological lines of the Party. The palaeoethnological method was initiated in the late nineteenth century and developed in the 1930s by Boris S. Zhukov, Petr P. Efimenko, and Sergei I. Rudenko. Their main idea was to combine archaeology and ethnography, and to reconstruct the history of ethnic groups in relation to environmental changes. Due to strict ideological control from the mid-1930s on, this direction and its representatives were suppressed. The diffusionist approach (including migrationism) was used after the turn of the twentieth century but was banned in the 1930s in order to promote autochthonism. In the 1950s, however, due to changes in the Party’s upper circles and the fight for power and ideological control, diffusionism was again allowed.

During the tenure of Josef Stalin as a head of the Soviet state (1929–1953), even slight disagreement with the Party line was very dangerous. Klejn (2012: 87) noted:

‘In Soviet archaeology all strictly academic debate of the slightest consequence inevitably assumed the nature of a ferocious political battle. In the early 1930s (and again in the 1950s), if a topic did not in itself qualify for such status, an archaeologist could invariably be found who would invest it with that status, in order to stick a political label on an opponent and win an easy victory. Such victories were often accompanied by ‘organisational measures’: condemnation of the recalcitrant as an enemy of Marxism, or worse, a renegade), dismissal, and even arrest of the individual and all his relations.’

During the purges in the 1920s–1930s, about 150 archaeologists, historians, art experts, and museum and local lore scholars were sentenced and either sent to prison, exiled, or even exterminated. Perhaps the true number is significantly higher. At least ten well-known Soviet archaeologists were executed or died shortly after imprisonment (Klejn 2012: 28). The ‘Academic’ and ‘Slavist’ affairs of 1929–1934 resulted in arrest and exile of dozens of scholars, mainly archaeologists and historians from Leningrad (Klejn 2014: 64). In this environment, most Soviet archaeologists were afraid to submit their papers to foreign periodicals for fear of being accused of espionage and sabotage.

After the death of Stalin in March 1953, ideological control of the humanities was to some extent loosened, and more academic freedom was allowed, as long as it did not challenge the leading role of the Party.

Nevertheless, despite the pure ‘theatre of the absurd’ of the Soviet political system, including Orwellian attempts to erase from publications the names of people who fell out of the Party’s favour (Klejn 2012: 31), the pioneering research conducted in the 1920s–1960s is widely acknowledged by the international scholarly community: by Gleb S. Bonch-Osmolovsky, Petr P. Efimenko, Sergey N. Zamyatnin, and Aleksandr N. Rogachev on the Palaeolithic; Sergei A. Semenov on use-wear analysis; Ravdonikas on the Mesolithic and petroglyphs in northern Russia; Mikhail P. Gryaznov on the Siberian Bronze and Early Iron ages; Rudenko on frozen burial mounds (kurgans) in Mongolia and the Altai Mountains of Siberia; Sergei P. Tolstov on early Central Asian states; Boris B. Piotrovsky on the archaeology of Trans-Caucasus; Aleksei P. Okladnikov on Siberian prehistoric archaeology and rock art; and Artsikhovksy on Medieval perishable birch-bark texts from Novgorod.

Okladnikov_Book_Figure_18
A. P. Okladnikov examines the rock art in Mongolia, 1970s.

Obviously, it is impossible to characterise in this brief essay all the varieties of Soviet archaeology of the 20th century; the reader will find more in the book by Aleksander K. Konopatskii about the life and works of Okladnikov in the 1930s–1950s.

References

Klejn, L.S. (2012). Soviet Archaeology: Schools, Trends, and History. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Klejn, L.S. (2014). Istoriya Rossiiskoi Arkheologii: Ucheniya, Shkoly i Lichnosti (The History of Russian Archaeology: Doctrines, Schools and Personalities). Volumes 1–2. St. Petersburg: Eurasia (in Russian).

Klejn, L.S. (2017). Archaeology in Soviet Russia. In: Lozny, L.R. (ed.), Archaeology of the Communist Era: A Political History of Archaeology of the 20th Century, pp.59–99. Cham, Switzerland: Springer.

Trigger, B.G. (2006). A History of Archaeological Thought (2nd edition). New York: Cambridge University Press.

Yaroslav V. Kuzmin has been studying geoarchaeology of the Russian Far East, Siberia and neighbouring Northeast Asia since 1979 (PhD 1991; DSc. 2007). He has also assisted in translating and editing books on the archaeology of eastern Russia.

9781789692044Aleksei P. Okladnikov: The Great Explorer of the Past. Volume I. A biography of a Soviet archaeologist (1900s – 1950s) by A. K. Konopatskii, translated by Richard L. Bland and Yaroslav V. Kuzmin. Printed ISBN 9781789692044. eBook ISBN 9781789692051.

xxiv+410 pages; 30 black & white figures.

Aleksei P. Okladnikov (1908–1981), a prominent Russian archaeologist, spent more than 50 years studying prehistoric sites in various parts of the Soviet Union – in Siberia, Central Asia and Mongolia. This biography will appeal to archaeologists, historians, and anyone interested in the history of the humanities in the twentieth century.

Available now from Archaeopress: Paperback (£24.99); PDF eBook (£16+VAT).