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Department of America

Contact Information

Phone: (812) 328-41-52

Head of Department

Yuri Berezkin, D.Sc.

History of the Department

The Department of America was founded in the end of the 19th century. In the early 1900s it was divided into two subdepartments, that of North America, and that of Central and South America. The latter emerged thanks to L.J. Sternberg, who initiated the exchange of collections with foreign museums. In 1889 the museum owned 256 exhibits from Central and South America, and in 1913 their number reached 6866. After the 1917 Revolution, the department was headed by V.G. Bogoraz-Tan, a prominent specialist in Siberians natives.

In 1950–90 one of the department staff members was Yu.V. Knorozov, D.Sc., winner of the National Award, a world-known specialist in the deciphering of the ancient systems of writing. A monument to Knorozov was erected in Mexico City, marking his outstanding achievements in the study of pre-Columbian cultures of Central America.

In the same years the department staff included R.G. Lyapunova, Cand.Sc., a specialist in the Aleuts, G.N. Dzeniskevich., Cand.Sc., a specialist in northern Athabaskans and Tlingit (she headed the department in the 1990s), and A.D. Dridzo, D.Sc., a specialist in Caribbean ethnography. In his last years Dridzo published archival materials pertaining to the Second Russian Expedition to South America (1914–15).

Main Research Areas

The main research areas of the department are traditional ideology and material culture of North and South American natives, and origins and attribution of the collections.

The department staff includes several noted specialists in American ethnography and native history.

Department Staff

Berezkin Yuri, Head of Department, D.Sc. (archaeology of the New World, ethnology of the indigenous populations of America, comparative mythology, colonization of America, early complex societies, iconography of pre-Hispanic cultures of the Central Andes).

Kinzhalov Rostislav, Chief Researcher, D.Sc., Honored Scholar of the Russian Federation, author of 8 monographs and more than 200 articles on the early cultures of Mexico and Central America, and mythology.

Okladnikova Elena, Chief Researcher, D.Sc. (traditional culture of Californian Indians, ethnographic parallels between Siberia and America, educational activities).

Taksami Natal’ya, Researcher, Cand.Sc. (modern ethnic processes among the indigenous populations of Alaska).

Korsun Sergey, Chief Specialist, Cand.Sc. (origin and attribution of collections from Russian America and other areas of North America).

Ershova Ekaterina, Chief Assistant (cultures of Brazilian Indians).

Tretyakova Milena, Research Assistant (museology, Latin American collections).

Principal Publications

The most important monographs published by the department staff include the following:

  • Berezkin Yu.E. Mochika: Tsivilizatsiya indeitsev Severnogo poberezh’ya Peru v I-VII vv. [Civilization of the Indians of the Northern Coast of Peru in the 1st – 7th Centuries AD]. Leningrad: Nauka, 1983. 165 P.
  • Berezkin Yu.E. Inki. Istoricheskii opyt imperii [The Inca. An Historical Experience of an Empire]. Leningrad: Nauka. 1991. 229 P.
  • Berezkin Yu.E. Most cherez okean: Zaselenie Novogo Sveta i mifologiya indeitsev i eskimosov Ameriki [A Bridge across the Ocean: Colonization of the New World and the Mythology of American Indians and Eskimos]. Lewiston – New York, 2001. 430 P.
  • Dzeniskevich G.I. Atapaski Alyaski. Ocherki material’noi i dukhovnoi kul’tury. Konets XVIII – nachalo XX v. [Alaskan Athabaskans: Studies in Material Culture and Ideology. Late 18th – Early 20th centuries]. Leningrad: Nauka. 1987. 152 P.
  • Dridzo A.D. Yamaiskie maruny. Istoriko-etnograficheskii ocherk [Jamaican Maroons: An Historical and Ethnographic Study]. Moscow, Nauka. 1971. 237 P.
  • Kinzhalov R.V. Kul’tura drevnikh maya [The Culture of the Ancient Maya]. Leningrad: Nauka. 1971. 364 P.
  • Knorozov Yu.V. Sistema pis’ma drevnikh maya [The Ancient Mayan System of Writing]. Moscow, Nauka. 1955. 95 P.
  • Knorozov Yu.V. Pis’mennost’ indeitsev maya [The System of Writing of the Maya Indians]. Moscow–Leningrad: Nauka, 1963. 663 P.
  • Knorozov Yu.V. Ieroglificheskie rukopisi maya [Mayan Hieroglyphic Manuscripts]. Leningrad: Nauka. 1975. 272 P.
  • Korsun S.A., Taksami N.Ch., Ushakov N.V. (Eds.). Sokrovischa Kunstkamery. Aleuty: kakimi ikh uvidel W.I. Jochelson [Treasures of the Kunstkamera. Aleuts As Seen By W.I. Jochelson]. SPb., MAE RAN. 2001. 100 P.
  • Lyapunova R.G. Ocherki po etnografii aleutov [Studies in Aleut Ethnography]. Leningrad: Nauka. 1975. 200 P.
  • Lyapunova R.G. Aleuty. Ocherki etnicheskoi istorii [Aleuts: Studies in Ethnic History]. Leningrad: Nauka. 1987. 228 P.
  • Okladnikova E.A. Model’ vselennoi v sisteme obrazov naskal’nogo iskusstva tikhookeanskogo poberezh’ya Severnoi Ameriki [Model of the Universe in the Imaginative System of the Petroglyphic Art of the Pacific Coast of North America]. SPb., MAE RAN. 1995. 320 P.
  • Taksami N.Ch. Korennoe naselenie Alyaski nakanune tret’ego tysyacheletiya [Indigenous Population of Alaska on the Threshold of the Third Millenium]. SPb., Nauka. 2002. 420 P.

The Department publishes a periodical collection “Otkrytie Ameriki prodolzhaetsya” [The Ongoing Discovery of America] and, in cooperation with the Moscow Institute of Ethnology and Ethnic Anthropology, a series titled “Problemy indeanistiki” [Issues in American Indian Studies]. The most important joint monographs published by the department are these:

  • Dzeniskevich G.I., Dridzo A.D. (Eds.). Amerikanskie aborigeny i ikh kul’tura [American Aborigines and Their Culture]. SPb., MAE RAN. 1998. 176 P.
  • Dzeniskevich G.I., Dridzo A.D. (Eds.) Otkrytie Ameriki prodolzhaetsya [The Ongoing Discovery of America]. Vol. 1. SPb., MAE RAN. 1993. 160 P.
  • Dzeniskevich G.I., Dridzo A.D., Okladnikova E.A. (Eds.). Otkrytie Ameriki prodolzhaetsya [The Ongoing Discovery of America]. Vol. 2. SPb., MAE RAN. 1994. 288 P.
  • Dzeniskevich G.I., Dridzo A.D. (Eds.) Otkrytie Ameriki prodolzhaetsya [The Ongoing Discovery of America]. Vol. 3. Spb. MAE RAN. 2001. 208 P.
  • Its R.F. (Ed.) Ku’tura narodov Ameriki [Culture of the American Natives]. (MAE Collection. Vol. XL). Leningrad: Nauka. 1985. 176 P.
  • Olderogge D.A. (Ed.) Iz kul’turnogo naslediya narodov Ameriki i Afriki [From the Cultural Heritage of the Peoples of America and Africa]. (MAE Collection. Vol. XXXI). Leningrad: Nauka. 1975. 236 P.
  • Potapov L.P. (Ed.). Kul’tura i byt narodov Ameriki [Culture and Everyday Life of the American Natives]. Leningrad: Nauka. 1967. 308 P.


In the 20th century the museum staff members participated in the setup of two ethnographic expeditions to North America.

The first one took place in 1909­10 under the direction of W.I. Jochelson, who conducted archeological, anthropological, linguistic, and ethnographic studies among the Aleuts on the islands of Umnak, Atka, Attu, and Unalashka. In the course of the expedition W.I. Jochelson collected more than 1500 items representing traditional culture, made more than one thousand photographs, compiled a dictionary of the Aleutian language that included more than 5 thousand words, and recorded more than one hundred legends and myths.

The second expedition was carried out in 1930–31 when the museum staff member Yu.P. Averkieva visited, under the guidance of F. Boas, several Kwakiutl villages on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. Field materials collected by her were published in the USA in the 1990s. She handed to the museum a valuable collection of more than 60 items and over 100 photographs representing the life of natives.

Current Research Projects

In 2003–05, the staff members of the department have been, and will be, implementing the joint project Axiology of North, Central and South American Native Cultures. Also, they participate in an inter-department project Kunstkamera: the History of the Museum and its Collections.


The museum received its first collections on American natives in the early 1700s. The influx of materials intensified in the late 1700s thanks to Russia’s activities in the Aleutian Islands and Alaska. The total number of North and South American items collected in the 18th century is about 150. In 1803–06 the First Russian Circumnavigation led by I.F. Krusenstern and Yu.F. Lisyanskii took place. Its participants handed to the museum numerous artifacts made by Alaskan and Californian natives. In the early 1800s, some fifty voyages were set up to supply goods to the Russian colonies in America. Many of their participants donated ethnographic collections to the Museum. In 1839–49 a multidisciplinary expedition led by I.G. Voznesenskii was dispatched to Siberia and Alaska to explore human and natural resources of these regions. Voznesenskii spent several years (1840–45) in Russian America. During that period he purchased more than one thousand ethnographic items from the Aleuts, Eskimos, northern Athabaskans, Tlingit, Californian Indians, and other North American natives. These collections, too, were donated to the Kunstkamera.

In the late 1800s, an exchange of collections with foreign museums began, first with the National Museum of Copenhagen and then with the American Museum of Natural History in New York and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington. Thanks to this cooperation our museum owns a number of valuable materials representing the cultures of Greenlandic Eskimos and North American Indians.

As a result, large ethnographical collections from native North America formed in the museum. They rank among world’s richest. The most valuable exhibits include those collected among Alaskan, Aleutian, and Californian natives. These collections were mostly assembled in the early 1800s, when the aborigines of Russian America had not yet been influenced by the Europeans and had still preserved the key features of their traditional lifestyle. In Western museums, collections representing this region began to form only in the late 1800s or early 1900s. Especially impressive is Museum’s Tlingit collection.

The most valuable materials on Latin American Indians were brought by the expeditions directed by G.I. Langsdorf (in the first third of the 19th century), A.V. Frietsch, and G.G. Maniser.

Especially important are Amazonian collections received from various sources over the period from the third quarter of the 18th century to the early 20th century, and one representing West Mexican Indians and donated by the German ethnographer K.T. Preuss in the early 1900s.

The department has prepared several databases containing information on the ethnographic collections from North and South America. The department’s staff members as well as specialists from other Russian and foreign centers have published a number of articles addressing both the origins and interpretation of these collections. Some are listed below.

  • Avdeev A.D. Aleutische Masken in den Sammlungen des Museums f50108r Anthropologie und Ethnographie // Jahrbuch des Museums f50108r V50102lkerkunde zu Leipzig. 1964. Bd. 20. S. 413–433.
  • Bates C.D. The California Collection of I.G. Voznesenski // American Indian Art Magazine. 1983. V. 8. No. 3. P. 36–41.
  • Black L.T. Aleut Art. Anchorage, 1982.
  • Black L.T. Glory Remembered. Wooden Headgear of Alaska Sea Hunters. Juneau, 1991.
  • Black L.T. Aleut Art. Anchorage, 2003.
  • Blackburn T.C., Hudson T. Time’s flotsam overseas collections of California Indian material culture. // Ballena Press Anthropological Papers. No. 35. Santa Barbara, 1990. P. 149–152, 197–201.
  • Blomkvist E.E. Russian Scientist Expedition to California and Alaska, 1839–1849 // Oregon Historical Quarterly. 1972. Vol. 73. No. 2. P. 101–170.
  • Dzeniskevich G.I. Shamanskie predmety v kollektsii G. Chudnovskogo. [Shamans’ Objects in Chudnovskii’s collection] // Amerikanskie aborigeny i ih kul’tura. SPb., MAE RAN. 1998. P. 82–110.
  • Ivanov S.V. Aleut hunting headgear and its ornamentation // Proceedings of the XXIII International Congress of Americanists, 1928. New York, 1930. P. 477–504.
  • Kinzhalov R.V. History of the American collections in the Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography // Cultures of the Bering Sea region: Papers from International Symposium. No. 7. 1983. P. 311–324.
  • Kojean P.M. Woven vessels of the California Indians // Mapon papers. San Rafael, 1979. No. 4. P. 1–21.
  • Korsun S.A. K istorii formirovaniya kollektsii po narodam Tsentral’noi i Yuzhnoi Ameriki v MAE [On the History of MAE Ethnographic Collections from Central and South America] // Kunstkamera. Etnograficheskie tetradi. Vol. 5–6. SPb., MAE RAN. 1994. P. 275–280.
  • Korsun S.A. K istorii severoamerikanskikh kollektsii MAE [On the History of the North American Collections at MAE] // Amerikanskie aborigeny i ih kul’tura. SPb., MAE RAN. 1998. P. 122–149.
  • Korsun S.A. Kollektsiya Kunstkamery XVIII veka po irokezam Kanady [An 18th-Century Canadian Iroquois Collection at the Kunstkamera] // Kur’er Petrovskoi Kunstkamery. Vol. 8–9. SPb., MAE RAN. 1999. P. 129–135.
  • Korsun S.A. The History of Kunstkamera’s Collection of the Peoples of Alaska and California // Science under Sail: Russian Exploration in the North Pacific, 1728–1867. Cook Inlet Historical Society Symposium. Anchorage, 2000.
  • Korsun S.A. Iz istorii postupleniya severoamerikanskikh kollektsii MAE v XVIII stoletii [On the Origins of the 18th-century North American Collections at MAE] // Otkrytie Ameriki prodolzhaetsya. Vol. 3. SPb., MAE RAN. 2001. P. 116–146.
  • Korsun S.A. Pervye latinoamerikanskie eksponaty stareishego russkogo museya [The First Latin American Exhibits in Russia’s Oldest Museum] // Latinskaya amerika. 2001. No. 10. P. 101–104.
  • Korsun S.A. Severoamerikanskaya kollektsiya MAE uchastnikov pervoi russkoi krugosvetnoi ekspeditsii [A North American Collection Donated to MAE by Participants of the First Russian Circumnavigation] // Radlovskie chteniya – 2002. Materialy godichnoi nauchnoi sessii. SPb., MAE RAN. 2002. P. 41–46.
  • Korsun S.A. Sobranie I.G. Voznesenskogo po indeitsam severo-zapadnogo poberezh’ya [I.G. Voznesenskii’s Collection Representing the Culture of the Northwest Coast Indians] // Radlovskie chteniya – 2002. Materialy nauchnoi sessii. SPb., MAE RAN. 2002. P. 46–52.
  • Korsun S.A. Severoamerikanskie kollektsii MAE (Itogi i perspektivy issledovaniya) [North-American Collections: Results and Prospects] // Istoriya i semiotika indeiskikh kul’tur Ameriki. Moscow, Nauka. 2002. P. 524–537.
  • Lyapunova R.G. Sea Animal Hunting Practiced by Aleuts in the 18–19th centuries (Implements and Means of Hunting). According to the Materials of the Museum of the Anthropology and Ethnography. // Trudy VII MKAEN [Papers of the 7th IKAES]. Moscow. Nauka, 1970. Vol. 10. P. 403–410.
  • Lyapunova R.G. Eskimo Masks from Kodiak Island in the Collections of the Peter Great the Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography in St.-Petersburg // Anthropology of the North Pacific Rim. / W.W. Fitzhugh, V. Chaussonnet. Washington – London, 1994. P. 175–203.
  • Lyapunova R.G. Etnograficheskie kollektsii po eskimosam-konyagam v sobranii MAE [Ethnographic Collections on the Kodiak Eskimos at MAE] // Amerikanskie aborigeny i ikh kul’tura. SPb., MAE RAN. 1998. P. 8–31.
  • Okladnikova E.A. Kunstkamera i ee rannie severoamerikanskie kollektsii [The Kunstkamera and Its Early North American Collections] // Kur’er Petrovskoi Kunstkamery. Vol. 1. SPb., MAE RAN. 1995. P. 29–60.
  • Okladnikova E.A. Zametki ob eskimosskikh kollektsiyakh iz Zapadnoi Arktiki SShA v sobranii MAE [Notes on the Eskimo Collections from the Western Arctic Region of the USA at MAE] // Istoriya i semiotika indeiskikh kul’tur Ameriki. Moscow, Nauka. 2002. P. 538–548.
  • Razumovskaya R.S. Predmety material’noi kul’tury indeitsev-tlinkitov poberezh’ya Alyaski v MAE [Tlingit Artifacts from the Alaskan Coast at MAE] // Strany i narody Vostola. Vol. 6. Moscow, Nauka. 1968. P. 20–29.
  • Samuel C. The Chilkat Dancing Blanket. Seattle, 1982.
  • Samuel C. The Raven’s Tail. Vancouver, 1987.

  • Siebert E. Sammlungen von den n50102rdlischen Athapasken aus der ersten H50084lfte des XIX J. // Jahrbuch des Museums f50108r V50102lkerkunde zu Leipzig. 1977. Bd.20. S. 113–131.
  • Siebert E. Northern Athapasken Collections of the First Half of the XIX Century // Arctic Anthropology. 1980. V. 17. P. 49–76.
  • Smirnova N.A. Vtoraya russkaya ekspedistiya v Yuzhnuyu Ameriku 1914–1915 gg., ee materialy i kollektsii [The Second Russian Expedition to South America (1914–15): Records and Collections] // Sovetskaya etnografiya. 1966. No. 4. P. 98–112.
  • Soboleva E.S. Yuzhnoamerikanskie kollektsii N.N. Miklukho-Maklaya [N.N. Miklukho-Maklai’s South American Collections] // Kur’er Petrovskoi Kunstkamery. Vol. 6–7. SPb., MAE RAN. 1997. P. 145–154.
  • Thompson J., Hall J., Tepper L.. Fascinating Challenges. Studying Material Culture with Dorothy Burnham. Quebec, 2001.
  • Troufanoff I. The Ahtena tomohawks in the Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR // Current Anthropology . 1970. Vol. 11. No. 2. P. 155–159.
  • Zimmerly D.W. Qajaq: Kayaks of Siberia and Alaska. Juneau, 1986.
  • Zolotarevskaia I.A., Blomkvist E.E., Ziebert E.V. . Ethnographical Material from the Americas in Russian Collections // Proceedings of the XXXII International Congress of Americanists, 1956. Copenhagen, 1958. P. 221–231.


The display in the North America Hall illustrates the traditional culture of American aborigines in the early 1800s.

The exposition is arranged according to geography – north to south. First the visitor is introduced to the traditional culture of Eskimos living on the arctic sea coasts from Prince William Gulf of the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic coast of the Labrador Peninsula as well as that of the Aleuts of the Aleutian Islands and Alaska and the Pacific Eskimos of Kodiak Island and the adjoining regions of Alaska. Next the exposition focusses on the traditional culture of Alaskan Indians – northern Athabaskans and Tlingit. Three showcases tell about the culture of the Plains Indians, and further sections concern the Iroquois of the Great Lakes, the Pueblo Indians of southwestern USA, and Californian Indians.

There is also a small permanent display addressing G.I. Langsdorf’s expedition to South America. In the years immediately ahead the exhibition on Latin American Indians, which existed until the 1990s, .will be renovated.

An important part of the department’s activities is to design international exhibitions and, related to this, to select exhibits which are the most valuable in both scholarly and artistic terms.

The department’s collections were displayed abroad on numerous occasions. Catalogues of exhibitions in which our collections took part, were published:

  • Arktiset sivilisaatiot. Tampere, 2002.
  • Arte del pueblo Tlingit. Palma de Mallorca, 1996.
  • Esperits de l’Aigua. Art d’Alaska i la Columbia Britanica. Barcelona, 1999.
  • Fitzhugh W.W., Crowell A. (Eds.) Crossroads of Continents: Cultures of Siberia and Alaska. Washington. D.C., 1988.
  • Kodiak, Alaska. Les masques de la collection Alphonse Pinart. Paris, 2002.
  • Oakes J., Riewe R. (Eds.). Appeasing the Spirits: Alaskan Coastal Cultures. Toronto, 2004.
  • Palast des Wissens. Die Kunst – und Wunder-Kammer Zar Peters des Groben. Band 1. Katalog. Munchen-Dortmund, 2003.
  • Science Under Sail. Russia’s Great Voyages to America, 1728-1867. Anchorage, 2000.
  • Smith B.S., Barnett J. (Eds.). Russian America: The Forgotten Frontier. Washington, 1999.
  • Spirits of the Water. Native Art Collected on Expeditions to Alaska and British Columbia, 1774-1910. Seattle-Vancouver, 2000.
  • The Far North: 2000 Years of American Indian and Eskimo Art. Washington. D.C., 1973.
  • The Spirit Sings. Artistic Traditions of Canada’s First Peoples. A Catalogue of the Exhibition. Toronto, 1988.
  • Tlingit. Alte indianische Kunst aus Alaska. Z50108rich, 2001.
  • Wunderwelt Arktikas aus Kunstkammer St.-Petersburg. Erbach, 1996.