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  • Language: Русская версия
Rubric: Monologue
Section: Archaeology
"I have the Soul of a Nomad"

"I have the Soul of a Nomad"

Anatoly Panteleevich DEREVYANKO is a leading Russian researcher in the field of archaeology and ancient history. The comprehensive expeditions he led helped discover over a thousand ancient settlements. The unique knowledge gained of the ancient history of Eurasia was summarized in more than 80 monographs and 700 papers published in 15 languages.

Prof. Derevyanko is an outstanding initiator of humanities in Russia and Siberia and a manager of integrated projects, including those in history and culture of the Scythian civilization and paleoclimate of our planet. He is a founder and Editor-in-Chief of the book series Folklore memorials of the peoples of Siberia and Far East and of the international archaeological journal Eurasian archaeology, ethnography, and anthropology.

Prof. Derevyanko is a foreign member of the Mongolian Academy of Sciences, corresponding member of the German Archaeological Institute, Associate Professor of the Arizona University, USA, and a member of the UNESCO Intellectual Club. In Russia, his achievements earned him the Order of the Red Banner of Labor, Order of Honor, Order of the 4th degree “For Service to Motherland”, and State Prize of the Russian Federation in research and engineering.

In 2004, Academician of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Director of the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences Prof. Derevyanko was awarded the Demidov Prize for his contribution to development of humanities in Russia and top-level discoveries in the field of Eurasian archaeology

“On valor, deeds, and glory”

…The Demidov Prize means a lot to me. It is the most prestigious prize in Russia, and it is also known abroad. It is a beautiful tradition, and then, the selection of candidates has been tough ever since the beginning in the 19th century, and the award is less biased than any other. I am pleased to be in company with Guriy Marchuk, whose contribution to the mathematical simulation of various processes cannot be overestimated, and Vladimir Bol’shakov from the Ural Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, a leading specialist in evolutionary and population ecology.

The Demidov Prize is a non-governmental award given to outstanding Russian researchers. It was founded in 1832 by Pavel Demidov, a patron of arts who originated from the famous dynasty of the Ural mine owners. The Prize was awarded by a commission of experts of the Russian Imperial Academy of Sciences.
The Demidov Prize played a very important role in the social life of the country. From 1832 to 1865, it was given to 58 first scholars whose names are still honored in Russia: chemist Mendeleev, surgeon Pirogov (who was awarded the Prize three times), sea researcher Kruzenshtern, traveller Vrangel, orientalist Father Ioakinf (Bichurin), ethnographer Snegirev, and others.
The first ceremony of awarding the Prize took place in 1832 at the General Session of the Russian Imperial Academy of Sciences and was very impressive. The President of the Academy, Count Uvarov, delivered a speech and addressed the founder of this prize and its laureates with the following words: “Let he be honored and appraised who spends his exuberance to revive useful work… and to give grants to those who devote themselves to the continuous efforts and modest reputation of a scholar.”
According to Pavel Demidov’s will, the Prize was to be awarded for 25 years after his death, so the story of the Demidov Prize broke in 1866 to be resumed in 1993, when the Demidov Foundation was established in Ekaterinburg on the initiative of Vice-President of the Russian Academy of Sciences G. Mesyats and the Governor of the Sverdlovsk Oblast E. Rossel. Now, the Prize is awarded every year, and the monetary reward equivalent to 15,000 dollars is accompanied by a malachite box and a silver medal engraved with the owner’s name.
The Demidov Prize always comes as a complete surprise to its winners: no applications need to be made and no work presented. A commission of experts chooses the most worthy member of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
Today, the Demidov Prize is Russia’s most prestigious non-governmental award for research achievements. Its prestige for the laureates is also attributed to the fact that the decision is made by their learned friends capable of a competent and objective judgment rather than by officials.

It is also important for me that all three of us work either in the Siberian branch or in the Ural branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences and thus represent the part of Russia which has great scale and potential. The famous Russian poet Alexandr Blok said, “Yes, we are Scythians! Yes, we are Asians!” On a more serious note, Alexandr Radishchev, a famous Russian social educator and publicist, wrote a book whose title is dear to our hearts: Ingrained History of Acquisition of Siberia. I believe it is the ingrained love for this rich land that will give us further amazing discoveries and, more importantly, strength to continue the “acquisition of new knowledge for the greater glory of this land.”

Expedition is my love

Two years ago, when I was elected Academician-Secretary of the Department of Historical and Philological Sciences of the Russian Academy of Sciences, I said I would agree on condition that, first, I was not to move to Moscow and, second, I would go on expeditions as often as I was used to. Gennady Mesyats accepted readily.

Two years on, I am still in Novosibirsk where I am in charge of the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, though I work here only part-time. Each month, I spend 11 or 12 workdays in Moscow, in the Russian Academy of Sciences, which is my main job. These are my regular “migrations”, in addition to expeditions. As for the expeditions, last year in May, right after the General Session of the Russian Academy of Sciences, I went to Peking, then to Sintsyan, and then to Peking again. After that I went to Ulan Bator, worked in Mongolia and the Altai, then Kabardino-Balkariya, Dagestan, Uzbekistan, Dagestan again… To make a long story short, I spent all summer in the field, which makes me happy, I must confess. Expeditions are like a breath of life to me, I just cannot live without them.

This year I want to organize a field trip to Iran. This is a project of extreme importance for us because Iran is a key transitional region on the roads of initial migrations of the ancient man. Northern regions and the region adjacent to Afghanistan look most promising as there are huge limestone arrays, terraces, and caves there.

I am often asked abroad which country I like best. They probably think I’ll say “France” when I am in France, “China” when I am in China, or “Japan” when I am in Japan… But I always say honestly that my second favorite country after Russia is Mongolia. It’s a wonderful feeling… It makes me feel I was born to be a nomad and have the soul of a nomad. I feel good there, no matter how long we work — 10 to 14 hours a day, day after day — and it is not a problem for me to walk 30 to 40 kilometers across the desert. And I am never bored to follow the same route again and again…

Mongolia impresses with its severity and contrast. The mean height above the sea level is 1400 to 1600 m, which is inevitably reflected in the scenery. Even the absence of vegetation in the central and southern parts of the country becomes something like a game for an affectionate eye: when you look down at a valley from a hill, it seems green, but as you come closer, you can see that blades of grass are spaced at dozens of centimeters from each other. It makes me feel tender, don’t ask me why …

I have always been enchanted by the image conjured in the novel The White Sun of the Desert by Rustam Ibragimbekov (by the way, Rustam is a friend of mine). I found the key to this image in Mongolia: if you are caught in a sandstorm, the only thing you can see is the Sun — a cold white sphere above the black roaring desert! The beauty is majestic and simultaneously alarming…

You can see mirages too; for instance, a lake tempting you to take a swim on a hot day. Normally, you are languid with heat in the daytime and shiver with cold at night but this contrast is also pleasant as you can have a good night’s sleep after a hard day! I have to confess that I have always had a good time in Mongolia, no matter how well the digging goes, and we have dug there quite a lot, too! I also like Kazakhstan, its southern part, and the Altai. But my heart’s in Mongolia…

Where there is a will, there is a way

When Alexey Pavlovich Okladnikov was asked what he valued most in life, he replied it was the pleasure of a new discovery. Recently I was asked a similar question, and I understood that no archaeologist can formulate the gist of our profession better. Certainly, big ideas do not spring out of nowhere, researchers come to them step by step. Any discovery requires numerous validations, which is the usual practice. When we go on expeditions, we do not seek for something absolutely unknown; normally, expeditions are preceded by thorough preparations, especially if the region is new for digging. We study geology, geomorphology, and natural conditions that existed there twenty thousand, two hundred thousand, or a million years ago…

Todey, discoveries rarely come as a surprise. What you don’t expect is the quality of the discovery and a chain of related discoveries stemming from it. For example, this was the case with the Pazyryk discovery by Natalia Viktorovna Polosmak. The burial mounds that she found could have been plundered, as it had happened so often… But the miracle was that these ancient graves remained intact and were buried in ice, which made it possible, for the first time in archaeology, to get a comprehensive idea of the level of material and spiritual culture that existed 2.5 thousand years ago. If we recall our very first expedition to the Ukok plateau, nobody at that time could imagine that such a discovery — of worldwide significance — was possible… But he who seeks persistently and knows what he seeks — finds!

Quite unexpected was the discovery of the unique Silicon Valley in Mongolia, where numerous stone tools of the primitive man were found. Yet, this discovery was made after ten years of unsuccessful investigations of archaeological monuments in Mongolia.

We can also mention our work in the field of the Altai Paleolith: digging of caves and open-type sites; certainly, many interesting things are still there to find. But the final result, namely, a well-justified concept which is the real discovery, will be achieved only when the basic digging and research are completed…

What does an archaeologist dream of?

The most daring dream is to find in the Altai a human skeleton dating back to, say, the early Paleolith. We have some Paleolithic artifacts, teeth and part of a bone, which are currently examined at the Max Planck Institute of Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig. But to find a whole skeleton remains the most cherished (though unusual!) dream of an archaeologist.

And such discoveries are made, though they are very rare. For instance, the American archaeologist Ralf Saletskii found, during his digging in the Iranian cave called Shanidar, undisturbed graves filled up with flowers. Owing to the integrity of the anthropological material, he managed to learn many valuable facts about the culture of that period; for example, that attempts to amputate extremities and trephine skulls were made as far back as 40 thousand years ago… Therefore, digging in the Denisova, Kaminnaya, and other caves, we are eager to find a more complete human “specimen”.

On the other hand , it is very important for an archaeologist to possess the professional ability to reconstruct the whole from its part using intuition and imagination. What I mean by intuition and imagination is not an idle fancy but the ability to generalize and put a chain of past events in a logical sequence, which is a must for wide-scale synthesis; for instance, for comparing processes that occurred in different countries. I don’t know whether this is a gift or an acquired quality, but not everybody possesses it. Some researchers get carried away by their imagination bordering on day-dreaming, others lack self-confidence to make a fundamental conclusion or write a book: the material collected is sufficient but they are still waiting for something, it seems to them that something is missing…

Path in the labyrinth of lines

By the way, I have always loved working at my desk, and not necessarily doing research. For example, I wrote a book about Alexey Okladnikov in a wink of an eye. It was the only time in my life when I fell ill and therefore had some spare time, so I started to write and could not stop till I came to the very last word.

I am quite happy with 35 hours of sleep a week. Ten years ago, I could get up easily at seven in the morning after the all-night New Year party and continue writing from the word I stopped at the night before. I’m still an eager writer but something has changed: I need more time to come back to the writing mood, have to look at the text and think it over… Research popularization doesn’t always come easy: it is more difficult for me now to tune to the “lyrical mood” and to write about the beauty of nature… Only when I completed the book about Valery Trofimovich Petrin, I regained some self-confidence. I had been thinking over the material for a long time, but then I sat down and wrote a small essay in one evening. I was proud of myself: it turned out that I was still in good shape and I did not become a dull official…

(The passion for writing goes back to my childhood, I wanted to become a journalist and got some stories published when I was a schoolboy. When I finished school, my mother told me, “You have to go to Moscow to become a journalist. We will sell our cow, and you will be able to go…” Yet, in 1961, I took part, accidentally, in an expedition led by Prof. Okladnikov and I became obsessed with archaeology forever…)

I resent spending time for popular stories lately because two years ago our Institute started to publish a reputable archaeological journal. It is printed in color and in two languages, Russian and English, and is a subject of envy of our colleagues in Europe, in America, and in Asia. They also try to convert journals founded ages ago to color printing, but it is not that easy…. It was not easy for us either to provide up-to-date printing equipment for our journal; unfortunately, not everybody understands that basic research is related intimately to publications. I am proud that our journal has no rivals in the Russian Academy of Sciences in terms of quality and promptitude. I am also proud that my associates enjoy the most favorable conditions as, thanks to the prompt publication, the results of their work are “turned over” quickly.

It is not an exaggeration to say that the findings and discoveries made by the researchers of the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences are unique. These discoveries have shown that North Asia and South Siberia have all the necessary conditions to resolve a multitude of research problems associated with human evolution, ancient migrations, and cultural development.

This is why we are going to hold an international archaeological symposium at our stationary site “Denisova Cave” in the Altai this summer. Solid research has been done and numerous papers and monographs published; it is now important that professionals from other countries can see everything claimed by our authors on site. The point is that many of our conclusions are unexpected. For instance, the transition to the late Paleolith, to the culture of a man of the modern physical type was so early, so bright, and so incredible that the leading specialists in this field should see it with their own eyes. As for us, we have no doubts: we have made a number of top-class discoveries in the last 10 — 15 years!

The Editorial Board is grateful to A. N. Zenin, Doctor of History, and M. V. Shun’kov, Doctor of History, Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, for their kind assistance in preparing this article

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