Department of Siberia

Contact Information

Postal address: 3, Universitetskaya nab., St.-Petersburg, 199034.

Phone: +7 (812) 328-41-42

Department Staff

Vladimir DAVYDOV, Candidate of Sciences, PhD in Anthropology (University of Aberdeen), Head of the Department

Dmitry ARZYUTOV,  Candidate of Sciences, researcher

Igor GRACHEV, junior researcher

Vladimir DYACHENKOCandidate of Sciences, senior researcher

Larisa PAVLINSKAYACandidate of Sciences, senior researcher

Olga STEPANOVACandidate of Sciences, researcher

Elena FEDOROVACandidate of Sciences, senior researcher

History of the Department

The history of the Department of Siberia starts in the first years of the 20th century when L. Ya. Sternberg, an outstanding researcher of the traditional culture and folklore of Amur and Sakhalin peoples, the Museum’s senior ethnographer. His co-worker as junior ethnographer was D. A. Klemenz, another expert in the culture of East Siberian peoples, and future director (from 1903) of the Department of Ethnography of the RussianMuseum. Among the colleagues of L. Ya. Sternberg in the department of that period were V. I. Jochelson and V. G. Bogoraz, already internationally known specialists in peoples of the extreme northeast of Siberia, members of Sibiryakov’s expedition to Yakutia (1894), famous Jesup expedition to Chukotka and Kamchatka (1900-1902), and Kamchatka expedition (1908–1911), the longest one.

The Director of the Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography at that time (1894-1918) was great turkologist Friedrich Wilhelm (Vasily Vasilievich) Radloff, famed for reading ancient Turkic Orkhon-Yenisei inscriptions (achievement shared with the famous Danish scientist Vilhelm Ludwig Peter Thomsen). It was this constellation that not always built the Department of Siberia, but also gave a powerful momentum to the development of Siberian studies as such and the making of the Russian school of ethnography.

Thus circle of prominent ethnographers issued a brilliant series of monographs, a result of their expedition activity:

  • Jokhelson V.I. The Koryak. New York, G.F.Stechert, 1905-1908.
  • Yokhelson V.I. The Yakut. New York. American Museum of Natural History, 1933.
  • Bogoraz V.G. The chukchee. Leiden-New York, E.J.Brill, G.F.Stechert, 1904.
  • Bogoraz V.G. Chukchee Mythologie. Leiden-New York, American Museum of Natural History, 1910
  • Sternberg L. Ya. Gilyaki, orochi, goldy, negidaltsy, ainy [Gilyak, Oroches, Golds, Negidals, Ainu]. Khabarovsk: Dalgiz, 1933.
  • Sternberg L. Ya. Materialy po izucheniyu gilyatskogo yazyka i folklora [Materials for the study of Gilyak language and folklore]. St. Petersburg, 1908.
  • Jochelson V. I. Materialy po izucheniyu yukagirskogo yazyka i folklora [Materials for the study of Yukaghir language and folklore]. St. Petersburg, 1900.
  • Bogoraz V. G. Material’naya kul’tura chukchei [Chukchee’s material culture]. Moscow: Nauka, 1991.

Simultaneously, they actively contribute to developing new scientific principles of MAE ethnographic exhibitions. They were based on the human evolutionary theory and typology of cultures. One of the first was the exhibition “Peoples of the Extreme Northeast” comprising a special “Shamanism and Shamans” section, set up in 1903. In 1925, the Gallery of Shamans exhibition was created under the leadership of Bogoraz, whose concept described a correlation of the forms of Siberian shamanism and stages of social development of Siberian peoples. In 1934, the Chukchee Society exhibition was presented.

A greatest merit of these scientists was persistent training of young specialists in the ethnography of Siberia. In the 1910s, Sternberg set up Instructive Courses of Ethnography of the MAE (which became the Postgraduate Department after the 1917 Revolution). They played a tremendous role in the making of a brilliant constellation of scientists who were gradually joining the Department (which got an official status in 1933. Among the first attendees of these courses was S. M. Shirokogorov (1911–1913) who later became a well-known specialist in the Tungus-Manchu group peoples, and B. E. Petri (1912–1916) who devoted himself to studying the natives of the Baikal region.

In later years, the Department had such prominent ethnographers as A. A. Popov, G. D. Verbov, V. N. Vasiliev, G. N. Prokofiev, E. D. Prokofieva, G. M. Vasilevich, L. E. Karunovskaya, A. G. Danilin, S. V. Ivanov, N. P. Dyrenkova, N. K. Karger, V. V. Antropova, N. A. Lipskaya, and L. P. Potapov, who issued classical papers on the ethnography of the Siberian peoples.

The primary task faced by the Department at the time of its establishment was collection of field ethnographic material on all the peoples of Siberia, in-depth study of the region’s traditional cultures, and preparation and publication of monographic research papers. The Department’s employees participated in expeditions of the Commission for Study of Tribal Structure of the Population of the USSR, and in the Commission for Study of the Yakut ASSR, working in West and East Siberia, in Altai, Far East, and Yakutia. The materials they collected, a large part of which is now kept in the Archive of the MAE, indicate that in broad outline, they achieved their goals. Their materials impress by their highest scientific level, and by the broad coverage of the culture they studied – from descriptions of husbandry and everyday life to huge corpuses of folklore and shaman texts recorded in the languages of bearers of those traditions. This became possible because of their high professional training, an important prerequisite being the knowledge of the language of the people to be studied. The main type of publications in those years were articles on various aspects of traditional cultures of Siberia; most of them have not lost their scientific value in our days. Only few monographic studies had a chance to be published. First of all, it is:

  • Vasilevich G.M. Sbornik materialov po evenkiiskomu (tungusskomu) fol’kloru [A Collection of Materials on Evenki (Tungus) Folklore] Leningrad: Izdatel’stvo Instituta narodov Severa, 1936.
  • Popov A. A. Tavgiitsy [The Nganasan] Moscow-Leningrad: Izd-vo Akademii Nauk SSSR, 1936.
  • Potapov L. P. Ocherki po istorii Shorii [Essays in the History of Shoria]. Moscow-Leningrad: Izd-vo Akademii Nauk SSSR, 1936.

In the post-war period, research was developed in the Department in two directions. On the one hand, comprehensive studies of particular peoples continued, which provides a wide landscape of the history of the Siberian region’s traditional cultures; on the other hand, research based on the comparative historical and comparative typological methods unfolded on a broad scale. The result of the former was a whole range of monographs whose scientific value is not only in studies of the ethnic history of a people, description of its culture, and finding out its genetic origins and development processes, but also in preservation of all these data for the Siberian indigenous ethnoses themselves, most of which did not have their written history, and most importantly, were already losing their ethnic traditions. The works by A. A. Popov, L. P. Potapov (Head of the Department in 1946-1967), G. M. Vasilevich, I. S. Vdovin (Head of the Department in 1972–1977), N. F. Prytkova, E. D. Prokofieva, V. V. Antropova, Ye. A. Alekseenko, V. P. Dyakonova, and Ch. M. Taksami (Head of the Department in 1977–2001) that appeared in that period are of great scientific importance. The collective effort of the Department personnel titled “The Peoples of Siberia” (1956) should also be noted. It was published in the “Peoples of the World” series, and later translated into English by Chicago University Press (1964).

In the late 1960s, the study of traditional religious beliefs of the region’s indigenous peoples became a priority topic. A summarizing study on this theme comprised three collective monographs:

  • Priroda i chelovek v religioznykh predstavleniyakh narodov Sibiri i Severa [Nature and Man in Religious Beliefs of Siberian and Northern Natives] / Ed. by I. S. Vdovin. Leningrad, Nauka, 1976.
  • Problemy istorii obschestvennogo soznaniya aborigenov Sibiri [Issues in Ideological History of Indigenous Siberians] / Ed. by I. S. Vdovin. Leningrad: Nauka, 1981.
  • Khristianstvo i lamaism u korennogo naseleniya Sibiri [Christianity and Lamaism in the Indigenous Population of Siberia] / Ed. by I.S. Vdovin. Leningrad: Nauka, 1979.

As regards the second direction, the Department’s researchers published a “Historical and Ethnographical Atlas of Siberia” in 1961, containing a detailed description of the material in terms of garments, means of transport, shaman’s tambourines, and its analysis, classification, and typology. It is provided with richest illustrative material and maps of the spread of various types of all cultural components covered in it; it is a unique phenomenon in Russian ethnology. The collective monograph “Garments of the Peoples of Siberia” (1971) is accomplished in the same spirit.

A special place in the Department’s research activity belongs to works of S. V. Ivanov (Head of the Department in 1967–1972). His monographs and articles are a real encyclopedia of folk arts and crafts of Siberia’s indigenous population.

A special page in the Department’s history is integrated archeological/ethnographic study of Tuva and adjacent regions of Mongolia. The expedition headed by L. P. Potapov worked in field for nine seasons. The result of this tremendous effort was the publication of an excellently illustrated three-volume book (1960, 1966, 1970).

Of noticeable importance in the Department’s activity was starting the “Siberian Readings” periodic conference in 1988, to be held once in three years.

Essential Publications


 Collective monographs

 Collected works

 Articles and chapters in the books:


(Supervisor: V. N. Davydov, Candidate of Sciences, PhD)

Essential contributors to the project: lead researcher L. R. Pavlinskaya, Cand. Sc.; senior researcher V. I. Dyachenko, Cand. Sc.; senior researcher E. G. Fedorova, Cand. Sc.; researcher O. B. Stepanova, Cand. Sc.; researcher D. V. Arzyutov, Cand Sc.; junior researcher I. A. Grachev.

This topic is under-developed in Russian ethnography. Exploring a landscape, man persistently modifies it with his actions: he moves, extracts materials, works the land, breeds animals, hunts, fishes, forages, and cultivates plants. Recently, there have been many discussions in science as to the intensity of man-made impacts on the environment. Within the framework of this topic, it is intended to review the changes of traditional forms of landscape use under the influence of innovations. The intensity extent greatly depends on the perception of space. The issue of the perception of space has been actively studied in international social anthropology, particular components of nomadic tribes’ camps have been analyzed, and the structure of their settlements has been reviewed, however little attention has been paid to reviewing all of these elements in the context of their interrelation and relation to the surrounding landscape. Many works in Russian ethnography have been dedicated to survey of traditional dwelling places. Nevertheless, no attention was given to reviewing the place of a dwelling in the structure of everyday relocations and its ties to other structures. The goal of the research team is to fill this gap.


The Siberian collections of the MAE are rightly considered as one of the world’s best ethnographic collections on the traditional culture of indigenous peoples of North Asia. Currently, the Siberian archive contains 747 collections totaling over 29,000 items. The exhibits comprised in it cover most diversified aspects of life of the peoples, presenting a rather complete image of the culture of each of the 42 indigenous ethnoses of Siberia.

The beginning of the Siberian collection is dated back to the time of foundation of the Petersburg Kunstkamera, where particular Siberian exhibits were already presented in the first years of its existence. By the end of 1747, the Siberian collections contained over 200 items, most of which were garments, utensils, and shaman cult objects of various peoples of Siberia. Most probably, the Kunstkamera received a large number of these items from members of the “Great Northern Expedition” (1732–1742) and primarily from Professor Gerhard Friedrich Miller, Stepan Petrovich Krasheninnikov, and Jacob Lindenau who regularly sent the materials collected in the expedition to St. Petersburg. Unfortunately, this earliest collection on Siberian peoples’ culture perished in the fire of 1747, but some of its exhibits have survived in drawings, which at that time were made from virtually every object finding its way to the Museum (a collection of these drawings is kept in the St. Petersburg Branch of the RAS Archive, and was recently published).

The loss of the Siberian archive began to be recovered as early as in 1748 when G. F. Miller returned from the expedition. Among the collections he brought with him, a noticeable position is held by archeological items from South Siberian regions acquired as a result of diggings and gathering of portable material, and everyday life and cult objects of the Kalmyks and Mongols. By 1768, the Siberian collection of the Kunstkamera had grown dramatically due to the demand of the Academic Office and the Senate Decree of September 3, 1761 sent to Siberian Governor Count Samoilov regarding acquisition of collections for the Museum. The collections of that period have mostly been lost by now, and the cause of this remains not quite clear. Undoubtedly, the nature of material plays a tremendous role in this. The bulk of the collection was fur clothing, for which the storage conditions of those times were really destructive. Evidently, there were other causes as well. One of them was poor documenting of museum exhibits in the 18th century. Therefore it is quite possible that some of them (over 100 items) have survived and was later included in the so-called “collections of unknown origin” or “old collections of the Kunstkamera.”

The next phase of active additions to the Siberian archive of the Kunstkamera is related to the round-the-world cruises of Russian seafarers in the early 19th century, which opened a new page in the history of Russian ethnography. In that period, the Museum enhanced its collection on the culture of peoples of Siberia’s Pacific coast, which were comparatively modest in the 18th c. In the early 1830s, the Kunstkamera received collections on the culture of indigenous peoples of Chukotka and Kamchatka acquired by members of the expedition of the Navy sloop Senyavin commanded by F. P. Litke (1826–1829). It was one of the expeditions whose assignment was primarily to survey the entire Bering Sea coast, and to study the everyday life and culture of the region’s indigenous population.

In the mid-19th century, the Museum’s Siberian archive on the culture of Pacific coast peoples was augmented collections assembled in Chukotka and Kamchatka by Lieutenant Zagoskin, an officer of the Russian-American Company. At the same time, collections on the culture of paleo-Asian peoples were received, acquired by I. G. Voznesensky, one of the most known explorers of Russian America and Far East, during his ten-year expedition research activity in those distant lands of the Russian Empire (1839–1849). All exhibits gathered by these scientists grouped into four collections totaling 256 items. Finnish linguist and ethnographer Matthias Alexander Castrén worked in that period (1845–1849) among the Ugric and Samoyed peoples of West Siberia. Studying the Siberian peoples’ languages, he regularly assembled ethnographic collections on the culture of the Khanty, Mansi, and Selkup people. Added to the Yakut culture collections were acquisitions by naturalist Alexander Fedorovich Middendorf during his long expedition to East Siberia to study the flora of that region (1843–1844).

The second half of the 19th c. and early 20th c. saw a dramatic enhancement in the ethnographic study of all the Siberian peoples. As a result of purposeful collecting activity, more than 20,000 exhibits were added to the Museum’s Siberian archive, which became the world’s largest collection on the culture of indigenous population of North Asia. Standing out from the collectors of that period is a brilliant constellation of Russian scientists whose research activity was integral to work in ethnographic field. Among them are such figures as Academician L. I. Schrenk, V. N. Gondatti, L. Ya. Sternberg, V. G. Bogoraz, D. A. Klemenz, A. V. Adrianov, D. N. Anuchin, A. V. Anokhin, K. M. Rychkov, V. I. Jochelson, V. K. Arseniev, B. O. Pilsudsky, V. L. Seroshevsky, E. K. Pekarsky, V. N. Vasiliev, S. M. Shirokogorov, B. E. Petri, and many others. A great merit of these scientists is that they not only built the Museum's Siberian archive, but also developed a method of collecting and recording ethnographic monuments. The collections acquired by them not only give a general idea of very diversified aspects of the traditional culture of such or another people, but also disclose each of them in all the diversity of its facets. These collections often comprise whole series of similar items belonging to different groups of one ethnos, which makes them a unique source for comparative study of cultural phenomena and of ethnic and cultural genesis processes in Siberia. Besides, the exhibits are generally supported with documentation containing rather detailed information on the item’s purpose, its function in the culture, ethnicity indicating the ethnos, local group, and family. The illustrative photo archive of the Department of Siberia also began to be generated in that period.

The 1920s-1930s were a no less fruitful period in the development of the MAE Siberian archive. Continuing the older generation’s scientific traditions of collecting, their pupils proceed to acquiring ethnographic collections, filling a lot of gaps that still existed in the Siberian archive. Among their collections, of special value are those assembled by A. A. Popov, L. E. Karunovskaya and A. G. Danilin, N. P. Dyrenkova, E. D. and G. N. Prokofiev, N. K. Karger and I. I. Kozminsky, V. N. Chernetsov, G. M. Vasilevich, Yu. A. Kreinovich, and N. F. Prytkova who were employees of the Department of Siberia in various years. In the 1950s-1980s, the MAE Siberian collections were enriched due to the collecting by the Department’s researchers L. P. Potapov, I. S. Vdovin, Ye. A. Alekseenko, V. P. Dyakonova, L. V. Khomich, G. N. Gracheva, Ch. M. Taksami, E. G. Fedorova, V. A. Kisel, and L. R. Pavlinskaya.

In the recent decade, the updating of the MAE ethnographic archive has been continuing. The collections to be mentioned first of all are those acquired by V. A. Kisel on the Tuvans, by I. A. Grachev on the Russians of Siberia, and by D. A. Arzyutov on the Altai people and Kazakhs of Altai.

The following catalogues on the Department’s collections were published:

The collections on the Siberian peoples are primarily analyzed in the continuing volumes of the MAE Collection.

Currently, the custodian of the MAE object collections on the Siberian peoples is senior custodian V. A. Kisel, Candidate of Sciences.

Illustrative Photo Collections

The Department of Siberia keeps photo collections on virtually all of the Siberian peoples, their ethnoterritorial groups, and on some peoples of adjacent territories. There are 54 ethnonyms among the names of the ethnoses recorded on the lists and captured in the photo collections. The sections dedicated to the culture of Siberia’s numerous peoples contain photographs capturing the geographic environment of their habitation, anthropological types, material culture (including the household set, dwelling place, clothes etc.), and spiritual culture (beliefs, religious cults, traditional feasts etc.).

Most of the photo collections were received as a result of multiple expeditions of researchers to Siberia. However, the Department also keeps illustrative collections that were donated by other institutions or individuals, or generated over the many years of work of the Department’s employees in other museums of Russia. Thanks to the latter, such fundamental ethnographic works as “Historical and Ethnographical Atlas of Siberia”, the “Peoples of Siberia” volume, Siberian Ethnographic Collections etc. were published, which also used many photos of exhibits from the Siberian collections of the MAE. Many collections of the Department are unique and depict phenomena or objects of material and spiritual culture that have long disappeared from traditional ethnography and can only be met in old publications or in photographs.

593 collections of photo prints are kept in the Department of Siberia, their total number exceeding 40,200 items. Another 321 collections on the Siberian peoples’ ethnography kept in the MAE do not have prints so far, and are kept as negatives. Thus, the total number of the collections makes an impressive figure of 914 archival units. Of course, the collections are far from similar in the number of photographs in them; there may be collections with a single photo, but archival units exceeding 1,500 photos can also be found (for instance И-1930, the collection of the Tuva integrated archeological/ethnographic expedition totaling 1606 photographs). If we look at the Siberian peoples in terms of the highest availability of illustrative photo materials kept in the Department, the collections will be distributed as follows: Tunguses, 68 collections; Chukchee, 53; Yakuts, 45; Nivkhs, 41; Nanais, 39; Khanty, 37; Nenets, 33; Koryaks, 32, etc. downwards.

The buildup of illustrative photo collections of the Department of Siberia started in 1880, when explorer I. S. Polyakov after an expedition to West Siberia delivered a collection of 64 photos depicting the Khanty’s ethnography. In the same year 1880, a collection of 18 photos on the ethnography of the Amur peoples was received from the library of the Academy of Sciences, and a photo portrait of an Amur native was also received from Academician L. I. Schrenk. Five years later, in 1885, Dr. A. Bunge, head of the Polar Expedition, provided to the MAE some photos taken in the north of the Yakut region. Since then, photo collections have been entering the Kunstkamera increasingly.

The illustrative photo collections of the Department of Siberia are supervised by senior researcher V. I. Dyachenko, Candidate of Sciences.

The electronic catalogues of the illustrative photo archive may be seen here: