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South and Southwest Asia

MAE owns huge materials representing the traditional culture of the Middle East and totaling about 4,000 items falling into 179 collections. These contain Arab, Turkish, Iranian, and Afghani artifacts, as well as a few those made by Turkic-speaking people of Chinese Turkestan.

The first specimens from this region were received by the Kunstkamera as early as 1722, when Peter I, then on his Persian campaign, shipped several Persian stone cannonballs and the keys from Derbent, a city captured by the Russian troops, to St.-Petersburg. A little later, in the mid-1730s, the Kunstkamera received things that had been owned by Peter’s companion Jacob Bruce, including some Persian coins and other items.

The first Arab artifacts were received by the Ethnographic Museum in 1838 from Academician Ch.-M. Von Fr50084hn. He had acquired them in Cairo and they are now in the possession of the Department of Africa.

Because most of these were isolated specimens, the Middle Eastern collection was virtually nonexistent until the 1880s, when the Museum received the first Iranian assemblages (from Prince Rizah Koulie Mirza and from Academician V.R. Rosen) and those from Turkey (from Governor-General of Kars P.I. Tomich). In 1891, a highly valuable collection was received from the Russian Geographical Society on whose behalf it had been acquired by B.L. Grombchevsky in Kanjut, Hindu Kush. Specimens from other Mideastern countries began to arrive much later.

In the first decades of the 20th century, the Mideastern, primarily Iranian, collections were augmented to a considerable extent thanks to certain graduates of St.-Petersburg University Faculty of Oriental Languages (A.A. Romaskevich and V.A. Ivanov), who visited Iran and donated numerous artifacts to the museum, and so did Russian diplomats serving in Iran (A.A. Adamov and D.D. Belyaev).

Numerous specimens including Arab ones were received in 1939–40 from the State Ethnographical Museum (now Russian Ethnographical Museum).

In the 1950s–70s the relatively few Mideastern acquisitions were mostly occasional purchases or donations. The situation changed in the early 1980s, when the Academy of Sciences set up the Complex Soviet-Yemeni Expedition which united researchers from several institutions. Leningrad Branch of the Institute of Ethnography was represented by ethnographers M.A. Rodionov and P.I. Pogorel’skii, and by physical anthropologists. The activities of the former resulted in the acquisition of several hundred artifacts from southern Arabia, providing a basis for the new Mideastern exposition.

The second group of collections comes from South Asia, and the first of them originated during Peter’s rule. According to certain sources, Peter himself purchased Indian specimens in Europe. Figurines and ivory jewel boxes arrived in the 18th century.

However, the first complete ethnographic collections from South Asian countries were received in late 1800s thanks to the activities of the prominent Indologist I.P. Minaev, who visited India in the 1870s and 1880s and brought rare manuscripts and artifacts from there. In 1896, by order of Nicholas II, MAE received materials collected by him in 1890–91 on his trip to the Orient. These included valuable Indian articles.

In 1900 MAE acquired an ethnographic collection from Berlin Museum of Ethnology, containing Indian and Ceylonese collections of Doctor F. Jagor. In the early 20th century, numerous South Asian articles arrived, including those collected in India by Hait brothers, Baron A.A. Stahl von Holstein and A.N. Kaznakov, and in Ceylon (by N.I. Vorob’ev and Hans Meyer), etc.

Finally, in 1912, MAE received a collection assembled by a Russian diplomat M.S. Andreev, who later became a prominent specialist in Central Asian cultures. It contained a unique fragment of a wooden palace from the town of Nasik – the most valuable Indian specimen at MAE so far.

However, the largest contribution to the Indian collections was made by A.M. and L.A. Mervarts, members of the Academic expedition to India. During their five-year stay there (1914–18) they collected an enormous amount of artifacts reflecting diverse facets of life in South Asia (India and Ceylon).

In the mid-1920 MAE received South Asian artifacts from institutions such as the State Museum Foundation, the Expert Committee, former Stieglitz Museum, etc. Later, until the mid-1950s, acquisition of Indian specimens was mostly random. In 1950s and 1960s, due to the development of friendly ties with India, the accretion of South Asian collections was more rapid. Artifacts were received from various societies and organization of India and Ceylon, from separate persons, from participants of exhibitions held in Moscow and Leningrad, etc. In the same years large collections were received from several museums in Moscow and Leningrad including Moscow Museum of Oriental Cultures and Leningrad Museum of Theatre.

The Department also owns a large collection of photographs related to peoples of South Asia.

In later years, the key factors in the growth of South Asian collections were N.G. Krasnodembskaya’s trip to Sri Lanka and V.N. Mazurina’s work in Nepal. At present the total number of South-Asian collections exceeds 300, and the number of specimens is more than 12 thousand.