Mikhail Gerasimov as an Archaeologist

Gerasimov’s archaeological activities have received far less attention than his work in the field of facial reconstruction. And yet he was an outstanding archaeologist as well. Having excavated ancient sites in various parts of the USSR from the Amur to Moldavia, he made important discoveries and published numerous reports.

Gerasimov’s archaeological career began in Irkutsk, where he was associated with Professor B.E. Petrie’s archaeological school. At eleven, for the first time in his life, the boy took part in an archaeological expedition headed by Petrie. At fourteen, he excavated a Chalcolithic grave in Irkutsk – independently and with due regard to methodology, and at seventeen he discovered and excavated an Upper Paleolithic site in the same town (this was the topic of his first article). In 1927-28 he excavated several Mesolithic and Neolithic sites in Khabarovsk and on the Angara, Neolithic cemeteries in Irkutsk and on the upper Lena, and finally a site near Irkutsk, one that brought him world fame – the gem of Siberian and world Upper Paleolithic – Malta, whose age is estimated at 20-23 thousand years.

Gerasimov’s discoveries at Malta were a breakthrough in archaeology. His senior colleagues, Petrie included, could never have imagined that Upper Paleolithic inhabitants of Siberia were able to create a culture that was every bit as good as the best examples of the European Upper Paleolithic. Female figurines carved of bone (similar sculptures were previously found only in Europe), representations of flying birds, and bone engravings were a true sensation. Magnificent figurines from Malta became an academic asset owing to accurate restoration done by Gerasimov in the field. In 1931 he published his discoveries, and in 1932 he was invited to the 4th International Quaternary Congress in Leningrad, where he presented a paper and demonstrated his remarkable finds.

Later M.M. Gerasimov continued intense field research – he participated in excavations at Kostenki on the Don, and in 1934-37 he resumed his studies at Malta. He took direct part in all major paleoanthropological events. Gerasimov restored Paleolithic crania from Teshik-Tash (glued up of 170 fragments) and Kostenki II, unearthed and restored skulls of the Upper Paleolithic people from Markina Gora and Sungir. All these specimens provided a basis for his facial reconstructions.

In 1956, after a long break, Gerasimov had succeeded in continuing excavations at Malta, where he worked for three field seasons and, yet again, the findings were impressive.

Location of the Upper Paleolithic site
of Malta.
           Mikhail Gerasimov during the
excavations at Malta, 1958.
     Gerasimov with his colleagues in
archaeology during the excavations
at Malta, 1957.
Gerasimov with his colleagues in
archaeology during the excavations
at Malta, 1958.
               Female figurine. Mammoth ivory.        Flake with traces of treatment.
Mammoth ivory.
Bird figurine. Mammoth ivory.            Bird figurine. Mammoth ivory.     Location of a Tripolye culture site
at Vykhvatintsy, Moldavia.
M .M. Gerasimov during the
excavations at Vykhvatintsy,
           Gerasimov’s reconstruction of a
sitting male figurine from Vykhvatintsy.

Mikhail Gerasimov’s Career
Mikhail Gerasimov as an Archaeologist
Reconstruction of the Face from the Cranium
“Sinanthropus” (Member of the Species Homo Erectus)
Homo Neanderthalensis (Neanderthal man)
Neanderthal Child from Teshik-Tash
People of the Upper Paleolithic
People of the Mesolithic
People of the Early Iron Age
Drawings by M.M. Gerasimov