The archaeological depository of MAE is the oldest and one of the largest in Russia. It contains vast and unique materials related to prehistoric cultures of Eurasia and other continents and spanning the periods from the Lower Paleolithic (500 thousand years ago) to the Middle Ages (AD 1000–1200).
The first stage in the accumulation of the museum’s archaeological materials was rather long: from the establishment of the Kunstkamera (1714) to the emergence of MAE on the basis of its collections (1879). An important part during that period was played by the Imperial Russian Archaeological Society, the Imperial Russian Geographical Society as well as by L.I. Schrenk, P.V. Alabin and A.S. Uvarov, who donated their collections to MAE. The contribution made by Academician Karl von Baer was enormous.
The second stage in the accretion of archaeological collections spans the period between the foundation of MAE and the establishment of the Department of Archaeology within it (1879–94). The time was marked by the acquisition of antiquities from remote regions of Russia such as Siberia (I.T. Savenkov) and Sakhalin (I.S. Polyakov).
The third stage coincided with the turn of the century and the final pre-revolutionary years (1894–1917). During that time, the Department gained an organizational status within MAE and a goal-oriented enrichment of its collections went on.
The period between 1917 and 1970 was the most productive since the influx of archaeological finds from expeditions working all over the USSR was especially intense.
Today, the archaeological depositories of MAE contain over one thousand collections comprising nearly 600 thousand specimens.
Number of collections
Number of specimens
Bronze and Iron Ages
Stone Age materials are especially numerous. In terms of their abundance, the archaeological depository of the Kunstkamera ranks first among the museums of Russia and CIS, and one of the first among world museums.
Based on finds from many key sites, sections were opened such as Prehistory of Russia and CIS, Lower Paleolithic, and Upper Paleolithic. That of the Lower Paleolithic includes finds from Teshik-Tash, Sukhaya Mechetka and other sites in the Crimea, the Caucasus, and Western Central Asia. The Upper Paleolithic section comprises collections from world-famous sites on the Russian Plain (Tel’manskaya, Kostenki-1, 2, 3, 4, 14, and 15, Gagarino, Eliseyevichi, and Yudinovo) and in Siberia (Afontova Gora, Mal’ta, and Kokorevo). These places have yielded numerous first-rate works of early art. Suffice it to mention an amazing series of female figurines, a large group of animal figurines made of ivory and chalk, ivory plates, and ivories decorated with geometric patterns and zoomorphous images. Importantly, the number of Upper Paleolithic female figurines made of ivory and chalk is ten. This is an impressive set, given that the total number of such specimens excavated in Russia is about sixty, and Western European museums own no more than a dozen similar images
Highly important collections come from Mesolithic and Neolithic sites in northwestern Russia and Siberia. One of the best known is Oleneostrovskii burial ground on Yuzhnyi Olenii Island, Lake Onega, the richest and the most unique among the synchronous sites in Northeastern Europe, one that contained the largest number of prehistoric works of art.
The department possesses materials from chronologically diverse sites of Tripolye – an original Chalcolithic culture (4000–2000 BC). Tripolye people were agriculturalists and animal breeders, and among the finds from their sites in the Dnestr basin (Luka-Vrublevetskaya, Rakovets, Kudrintsy, Darabani) are a beautiful pottery decorated with incised and painted patterns, and numerous anthropomorphous and zoomorphous clay figurines of Tripolye type.
The archaeological collections of the Kunstkamera were formed through the efforts of several generations of prominent Russian researchers such as I.S. Polyakov, I.T. Savenkov, K.S. Merezhkovskii, B.E. Petrie, P.P. Efimenko, G.A. Bonch-Osmolovskii, V.A. Gorodtsov, V.I. Ravdonikas, A.P. Okladnikov, V.N. Chernetsov, A.V. Schmidt, S.N. Zamyatnin, S.N. Bibikov, P.I. Boriskovskii, N.N. Gurina, A.N. Rogachev, V.V. Fedorov, etc.
The Department owns numerous documents and archives of photographs (more than 1,500 items).
Archaeological collections of MAE are described in several publications some of which are catalogues:
- Nechaeva L.G., Popova T.A., Fedorov V.V., Fradkin E.E. Arkheologicheskoe cobranie Muzeya antropologii i etnograpfii im. Petra Velikogo AN SSSR [Archaeological Collections of Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography] // 250 let Muzeya antropologii i etnografii im. Petra Velikogo. Leningrad, 1964. P. 151–168. (MAE Collection, Vol. XXII).
- Popova T.A. Kollektsii A.P. Okladnikova v arkheologicheskom sobranii MAE [A.P. Okladnikov’s collections in the archaeological depositories of MAE] // Problemy drevnikh kul’tur Sibiri. Novosibirsk, 1985. P. 38–45.
- Popova T.A. Drevnie kul’tury Sibiri (po materialam arkheologicheskogo sobraniya MAE) [Prehistoric cultures of Siberia (based on the archaeological collection of MAE)] // Material’naya i dukhovnaya kul’tura narodov Sibiri. Leningrad, 1988. P. 159–187. (MAE Collection, Vol. XLII).
- Popova T.A., Ravnushkin L.V. Kollektsii S.N. Zamyatnina, khranyaschiesya v otdele arkheologii MAE RAN [S.N. Zamyatnin’s collections at MAE Department of Archaeology] // Materialy mezhdunarodnoi konferentsii “Lokal’nye razlichiya v kamennom veke”, posvyaschennoi 100-letiyu so dnya rozhdeniya S.N. Zamyatnina. SPb., 1999. P. 18–27.