“The General and his Army”: Metropolitans and Locals on the Khorezmian Expedition

in “Masters” and “Natives”


While the Soviet Union continued many of the tsarist Russian policies in Central Asia, there were also some significant differences which make it difficult as well as interesting to compare Soviet archaeological expeditions in the region with “colonial archaeology”. This paper presents the case study of the Khorezmian Expedition of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR which worked in Central Asia from 1937 to 1991, much of the time under the direction of its founder, Sergej P. Tolstov. The initial, clear distinction between scholars from the centres, Moscow and Leningrad, on the one hand, and locally recruited workers and guides, on the other hand, seems to conform to a “colonial” pattern. But as time went on, the expedition became a pathway for Central Asian students into the upper ranks of Soviet archaeology, either directly by working on the expedition, or by encouragement from Tolstov to attend academic institutions in the centres. This aspect was instrumental in creating the foundations of a Central Asian school of Soviet, and ultimately post-Soviet, archaeology. Finally, cases of personal involvement by individuals from the “imperial” centres, be it by local marriage or by “going native”, helped to blur the distinctions and made the boundaries between metropolitans and locals permeable - without ever removing them entirely.

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