Archaeologists in Soviet Literature

in “Masters” and “Natives”

Abstract

This chapter attempts to approach Soviet literary works that refer to, in one way or another, the topic of archaeology. The attempt unfolds in three steps. First, several particular literary works are discussed, two “geographical novels” in which the geographer Vladimir Arsen’ev recounts his travels to the Far East and tells the story of his guide Dersu Uzala, an example of a “natural man”. A special stress is put on the importance of this fact-and-fiction work; the avant-garde finds in it a new narrative pattern and at the same time it inspires a genre that becomes crucial in the system of socialist realism. We discuss then the “Master”-“native” relationship typical for this genre. Then we define the differences between symbolic roles assigned to various earth sciences in the Soviet culture: geographers controlling the present, geologists the future, and palaeontologists the past. Archaeology, in being dependent to a larger degree on the ever-changing party politics, has the most fragile position in this hierarchy. Nevertheless, the Soviet system had a use for it. In the last part of the paper, we give a brief overview and a rough typology of the literature inspired by archaeology.

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