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Projets en cours

The Russian-Soviet Archaeology in colonial and postcolonial situation

the case of Uzbekistan




Located at the intersection of history, epistemology, archaeology and art history, this multi-disciplinary project proposes to explore the history of Russian and Soviet archaeology in Uzbekistan from the perspective of a colonial situation in the region. In addition to offering a chronological reconstruction of the main excavations, it will examine epistemological, sociological and political aspects of the archaeological studies. In particular, the project will consider how Russian/Soviet archaeology  contributed to the invention of often ideologically-determined historical traditions, which, to some extent, continue to influence nation-building and other political processes in Uzbekistan even today.


The archaeological studies to be analysed took place between several intellectual centers of the Russian/Soviet imperial core and of its own Central Asian colonies. It will be shown how both imperialist and communist doctrines, as well as the goal of legitimazing the Russian and Soviet presence in Uzbekistan, shaped archaeology  as a field of scholarship. The dynamics of interactions between multiple actors, such as the metropolis and the colony, the center and the periphery, the colonizer and the colonized, in the formation of archaeology of Uzbekistan will be of particular interest to the project.


From the geographical and chronological point of view, the research will rely on examples shared between Russian Turkestan and Uzbekistan, and between the Tsarist and Soviet periods. Using the paradigms of recognition (e.g. references to the “glorious past” of Central Asia) and differentiation (paternalism inspired by the “barbaric and backward” aspect of contemporary governments of the region), the project will point to the strategies chosen in the archaeological studies and the processes of inventing traditions (concerning the elements that Europeans considered worthy of preservation), and hence, of forging identities in the region. I shall attempt to identify the structural arrangements in the practices of different colonial actors and in their effects, which today tend to frame postcolonial reappropriations. These practices ranged from the creation of new myths (Tamerlan, for example, who has been designated as the founding father of the Uzbek nation) to the silences and omissions (such as, for example, in Soviet times, the downplaying of the role of religious life in society).


The chosen timeframe covers the Tsarist period from ca. 1860 to 1917, the communist era until 1991 and the post-colonial period from 1991 until the 2010s. Each phase can be analyzed as a special and original event, which was marked by various discoveries, made in a specific research organization where a dominating school of thought or an idea required a particular research method (for example, the quest for the Aryan homeland, the theory of “influences”, the Mediterranean or Iranian centrism, structuralism in its Stalinist version and the ethnogenesis theory).

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