The chronology and cultural connections of the Bronze Age have played a key role in European archaeology since the 1870s. The earliest cultures that could be linked through typological series to Mediterranean cultures documented in writing were specifically of the Bronze Age. The Finnish archaeologist Aarne Michaël Tallgren (1885–1945)1 (Fig. 1) maintained a lively discussion on the Bronze Age of Russia with his colleagues from the early 20th century until the 1930s. When Tallgren began his career as an archaeologist, he sought to continue from where his teacher Johan Reinhold Aspelin (1842–1915) had left the interpretation of the so-called Ural-Altaic Bronze Age. Aspelin claimed that it originated in Siberia and spread westward from the Yenisei. For Aspelin and others of the 19th-century nationalist movement in Finland, the bearers of the Ural-Altaic culture were the ancestors of the modern Finns (Aspelin 1875: 65–125; 1877 etc.). J J A Worsaae (1821–1885) had presented a largely similar interpretation (Worsaae1872: 360). Tallgren and other scholars of his generation challenged this view, partly deliberately and partly by accident. Since Finland was an autonomous Grand Duchy of the Russian Empire, routes to the east lay open, and this opportunity was seized in archaeology, ethnology and linguistics alike (Salminen 2009: 225–235; Nordman 1968: 32–38; Korhonen 1986: 50–66, 144–167).

Figure 1 

Aarne Michaël Tallgren. Moora family collection.

Was it a continuous process in which an international network of archaeologists presented new interpretations in the early decades of the 20th century, or can sudden changes be demonstrated? Who influenced whom and how? What were the main dividing factors between western and eastern scholars? What was Tallgren’s position? What was the relationship of this discussion to earlier interpretations of the eastern Bronze Age and their ideological backgrounds? In what kind of historical context did archaeologists discuss their problems (more extensively in Finnish, see Salminen 2014a: 143–160; see also Кузьминых & al. 2015)?

A M Tallgren and the systematization of the Ural-Altaic Bronze Age

In 1885, A A Stuckenberg and N Vysockij2 published new finds from the River Kama region, suggesting local roots for the Bronze Age west of the Urals (Штукенбергъ & Высоцкiй 1885). Despite this, Aspelin’s nationalistically-based theory of a uniform Ural-Altaic Bronze Age culture with its origins in Siberia was still accepted in the early 20th century in Finnish archaeology (Salminen 2003a; 2003b; 2007). At the same time there was also a general view of prehistoric cultural evolution emerging in Russia (see e. g. Платонова 2010: 99–112, 198–203 etc.). It cannot be deduced at what stage the new finds of the 1880s and 1890s became known to Tallgren, but it appears that he was still unaware of them in the winter of 1908 when travelling via Stockholm and Copenhagen to London and Paris to begin collecting material for his study on this topic (FASA, Aspelin, A M Tallgren’s letter to J R Aspelin, 3 March 1908; Salminen 2003b: 125–127).

In his general views on the Bronze Age, Tallgren wavered between the influence of the Oscar Montelius (1843–1921) of Sweden and the Danish archaeologist Sophus Müller (1846–1934). Alfred Hackman (1864–1942), another Finnish archaeologist, tried to instruct him to rely on Montelius. Otherwise Tallgren could not understand the evolution of the periods in question, he wrote, especially mentioning the problems of Müller’s chronology (NLF Coll. 230, Alfred Hackman to Tallgren, 4 Feb. 1908).

Tallgren went on long trips to Russia and the Soviet Union in 1908, 1909, 1924, 1925, 1928 and 1935. During them he could meet colleagues and obtain information about new excavation results. It was especially important for his interpretation of the Bronze Age that he could acquaint himself with museum collections both in the east and the west, including the latest finds from the Volga–Kama region. This made him doubt the Ural-Altaic connection. We must not forget, however, that Müller had already explained the related forms in Siberia and Europe by shared origin instead of a genealogical relationship. He placed their original home in Asia, south of the steppes between the Volga and Lake Baikal, although he had not yet been able to determine it more precisely (Müller 1882: 349–356, especially 355–356).

Tallgren received confirmation for his doubts from the British archaeologist Ellis Hovell Minns (1874–1953), who viewed the Russian Bronze Age from the perspective of his research on the Scyths. Minns also assumed the metal culture of Western Russia to be at least partly of western origin:

“All nomenclature is wrong, Ural Altaic not less than any other term: but though you with your expert knowledge see four separate regions and note most important differences, looked at broadly the term does cover an area which has much in common. […] But I don’t think we can name any more dates yet. I fear that I am rather sceptical about archaeological dates: even the Egyptian ones seem in the melting pot again. Any way you are doing what is wanted in classifying the types and tracing their development. The Caucasus remains a perfect puzzle to me. I am not strong enough to tackle it, and anyway this prehistoric stuff is rather a Nebensache for me.” (NLF, Coll. 230, Ellis H. Minns to Tallgren, 18 Oct. 1908.)

As early as 1908, Tallgren discussed cultural evolution in Russia with Vasilij Alekseevič Gorodcov (1860–1945) from Moscow, with particular focus on the age and origin of the younger cemetery at Volosovo3 (NLF, Coll. 230, V A Gorodcov to Tallgren, p. d. [1908]). Minns also corresponded around this time with Gorodcov regarding Russian archaeology (NLF, Coll. 230: Minns to Tallgren, 31 Dec. 1908). Gorodcov in Moscow and Aleksandr Andreevič Spicyn (1858–1931) in St. Petersburg/Petrograd were central figures in introducing archaeological education into Russian universities and importing information about Scandinavian theoretical and methodological approaches. Both were self-taught in archaeology (Trigger 2006: 231–232, 234; Платонова 2010: 99–100, 107–112, 198–214).

Tallgren published his new division of cultural regions in 1908 (in Finnish) and 1911 (in German) basing it on new finds, a new approach to previously known materials and a more detailed study of artefacts and remains than previously (Figs. 2 & 3). He came to the conclusion that artefact forms common to Russia in Europe and Siberia derived from shared Scythian prototypes and were not in any genetic relationship with each other. Cultural influences had proceeded from west to east (especially Tallgren 1908; 1911: 1–24, 94–95).

Figure 2 

Siberian Bronze Age types according to Tallgren 1911: Abb. 1.

Figure 3 

East Russian Bronze Age types according to Tallgren 1911: Abb. 2.

Tallgren went on to develop this idea in his later works. For him, the Bronze Age of Ukraine was a combination of independent forms and foreign influences. The Fat’janovo Culture4 was a western group, marking the eastern boundary of the Single-Grave Culture5 (Fig. 4). Contrary to Aspelin, Müller and Gorodcov, Tallgren regarded the whole Steppe Culture to be oriented to the west (Tallgren 1926: 87, 214–221; see also Tallgren 1911: 84). Tallgren placed the centre of the Anan’ino Culture6 in the Kama region and defined this culture region as extending in the east to Ekaterinburg, perhaps even to Tobol’sk and possibly as far as Tomsk, in the south to the provinces of Samara and Saratov, and in the northwest to Finland, at least in dispersed form. Tallgren also stated that the origins of the Caucasian Bronze Age could have been elsewhere than in the Ural-Altaic region. (Tallgren 1919: 86, 92, 95–103, 171, 184.)

Figure 4 

Distribution of Fat’janovo-type finds according to Tallgren 1924 Fig. 7 (p. 13).

Ellis Minns said that he agreed with Tallgren’s interpretation of these matters and he was particularly pleased to see that Tallgren did not want to give the cultures “national labels”. He would nonetheless have wanted to leave the question of absolute chronology open for the time being. Minns presumed that the views presented by Tallgren in the Anan’ino study concurred with his own position and was happy that Tallgren, following Salomon Reinach, made China the receiving party in cultural interaction with Siberia (Tallgren 1911: 217–218; 1913).

Tallgren’s new interpretations emerged at a time when Ural-Altaic archaeology had practically lost its nationalist appeal in Finland. The finds recovered in the east in the 1880s and 1890s had not fulfilled the demand for the distant expeditions, and archaeological evidence for a Finno-Ugric original home at Altai Mountains had been questioned. The image of the Finnish past was created instead within the borders of the Grand Duchy of Finland (Salminen 2003a: 107–109).

“The difference is at the level of principle…”

Aleksandr A Spicyn of Petrograd was considerably more critical, maintaining that the Copper and Bronze Ages of Russia should not be confused. The Bronze Age was a western phenomenon extending from the west to the Dnepr, while the Copper Age was a separate eastern cultural region. Spicyn divided the Late Copper Age, which Tallgren discussed in his work, into the Altai-Yenisei and Ob-Ural regions. He did not accept Tallgren’s interpretation that the Galič hoard belonged to the Fat’janovo cultural sphere. Instead, he regarded it as belonging to a culture that still remained to be identified. Spicyn was also doubtful of an east-west connection of trade in the Bronze Age. He underlined that the Majkop Culture7 and Fat’janovo could not be dated with reference to Troy, for, according to him, the origins of Majkop were in Assyria or some as yet unknown culture of Medeia or Lydia. Spicyn’s approach thus underlined the cultural independence of the area of Russia with regard to the west (NLF, Coll. 230, A A Spicyn to Tallgren, 9 Jan. 1912, published in Кузьминых 2011: 11–12).

Neither did V A Gorodcov accept all the western connections suggested by Tallgren. He pointed in particular to the Fat’janovo Culture, whose origins he placed in the North Caucasus. Also for Gorodcov, Bronze Age Russia was independent, particularly from the west. Unlike Spicyn, however, he accepted the term Bronze Age for the whole territory of Russia (NLF, Coll. 230, Gorodcov to Tallgren, p. d. [1913]; Городцовъ 1910: 243–244, 249–273 and appendix map). Gorodcov returned to the question of the independent nature of the Fat’janovo Culture in 1915 and was interested in hearing Tallgren’s views on the relationships between Bronze Age cultural groups in Russia. He maintained that two currents of cultural influence, a western and a south-eastern one, could be observed during the Fat’janovo Culture in Russia, noting:

The Donec Catacomb Culture from the south merged with the Fat’janovo Culture. Towards the end of the Bronze Age, approximately in the 14th–13th centuries BC a strong eastern (Siberian) influence appeared in the whole of Europe but especially in the Kama-Volga and Oka-Volga regions. This current of influence continued until the 9th century, approximately four centuries. During this period, West European items spread at least to the Oka and the Volga, but to a lesser degree. Later, from the 9th to the 7th century, a West European influence predominated, which also returned some originally eastern artefacts back east in reworked form. (NLF, Coll. 230, Gorodcov to Tallgren p. d. [1915].)8

Gustaf Kossinna (1858–1931) had associated the Fat’janovo Culture with the Indo-Europeans in an article in Mannus, but Gorodcov did not accept this and regarded the culture groups discussed by Kossinna as contemporaneous but distinct. Gorodcov opposed in particular the notion that the culture of the Caucasus had evolved under West European influence (NLF, Coll. 230, Gorodcov to Tallgren, 21 Nov. 1915; Kossinna 1910: esp. 107–108).

In 1916, Gorodcov once again pointed to their diverging views: Tallgren represented the western orientation towards the Cretan-Aegean Culture, “which West-European archaeologists so boundlessly praise”, while he regarded the foundation to be Mesopotamian civilization, which had evolved in interaction with Egyptian one. Even this did not exclude Crete and the Aegean region.

“As you can see the difference is at the level of principle and it must be solved along with the general question of the evolution of the overall currents of the cultural basis. How is this achieved? Archaeologists of the western orientation advise us to recognize Cretan-Mycenaean culture as the leading light of the Bronze Age, but why? How is this better than the viewpoint of archaeologists oriented towards the east? If the protagonists of the western orientation try to convince us that all the Bronze Age peoples were culturally Cretan-Aegean, why did these Cretan-Aegeans did not create historical cities or their own history? We do not even know who these Cretan-Aegeans were. To what tribe and race did they belong?”9

According to Gorodcov, the eastern orientation relied on facts that were more solidly argued. He wanted to see the Russian Bronze Age extend from the 11th to the 8th century. Towards the end of the Bronze Age, the situation changed once again, “as eloquently shown by the Sejma find” (NLF, Coll. 230, Gorodcov to Tallgren, 8 Dec. 1916; cf. Tallgren 1916: 8–17).

In an undated letter from around the same time, Gorodcov said that he was prepared to speculate that the Fat’janovo Culture ended around 1500 BCE, but he still could not accept the western orientation (NLF, Coll. 230, Gorodcov to Tallgren, p. d.). In another letter, also undated, Gorodcov outlined the cultural phases of the Late Stone Age and the Bronze age in Russia as follows: 1) an apparently Finno-Ugrian Neolithic; 2) the Bronze Age: a) population spreading from the North Caucasus into Central Russia, b) population spreading from Ukraine to Russia (both most likely merging with the autochthonous population), c) the arrival of a population or only cultural influences from the Perm region, and d) the evolution of local cultures (NLF, Coll. 230, Gorodcov to Tallgren, p. d.).

Spicyn did not agree with Gorodcov in all matters, noting among other things:

“Re. the Minusinsk bronzes. Until now, it has seemed to me that these bronzes are a mixture of Central Asian and Chinese forms. They are of truly older date, with a few exceptions which you also know. But the Sejma cemetery in particular proved that the celt forms of Minusinsk are from a later period. I have not yet read Gorodcov’s study, but it is truly hard to concur with his views.” (NLF, Coll. 230, Spicyn to Tallgren 22 Dec. 1916, published in Кузьминых 2011: 14.)

It could be assumed that discussion on the Late Bronze Age would have gained pace with the publication of Tallgren’s study of the Anan’ino Culture in 1919, but this was not the case. This was partly due to the overall interruption of contacts with Russia after the revolution, but even western colleagues hardly said anything. In Russia, Boris Vladimirovič Farmakovskij (1870–1928) referred to Nikolaj Jakovlevič Marr’s (1864–1934) suggestion that the Scyths were of the Japhetic race, a Hittite group that would also have included the Cimmerians (NLF, Coll. 230, B V Farmakovskij to Tallgren, 9 Oct. 1920; cf. Tallgren, 1919: 179–181). Tallgren wrote about this also to Max Ebert (1879–1929) in Germany, who had his doubts about the Hittite origins of the Scyths and regarded the Cimmerians to have been Thracian-Phrygians (NLF, Coll. 230, Max Ebert to Tallgren, 19 Nov. 1920).

Discussion on Fat’janovo, Galič, Sejma and Majkop

The conditions for eastern research had changed after the First World War. A civil war continued in Russia until 1922, and almost all contacts were broken. Finland gained independence after the Russian revolutions of 1917. The change made it more complicated to continue research in the east. Strong, even racist-toned anti-Russian sentiment emerged in Finland (Karemaa 1998: 196–200). Also economic conditions had deteriorated drastically. Did the situation influence archaeological interpretations of the eastern Bronze Age?

In 1920, Tallgren published an article on the Fat’janovo Culture, linking both the Galič treasure10 and most of the Sejma finds11 to this cultural sphere. He also maintained that Comb Ware belonged to the same broader entity. Tallgren regarded Fat’janovo as reflecting western cultural influence, and thus Gorodcov’s critical remarks did not influence his interpretation of matters. Another important genealogical link was with the Kuban in the Caucasus, i.e. with what is now known as the Majkop culture. According to relative chronology, Tallgren regarded Fat’janovo to be of the same age as the oldest single graves in Denmark, i.e. from the Third Period of the Scandinavian Stone Age. He sought an absolute dating via Majkop and further with reference to Troy and Mycenae, with ca. 2000 BCE as the result. In an article published in Sweden in the same year, he regarded Sejma to be slightly younger, dating it to around 1600 BCE. (Tallgren 1929b; 1920a: 71.12 Writing to his Finnish colleague and friend Carl Axel Nordman (1892–1972), Tallgren, who was professor of archaeology at the University of Tartu in Estonia at the time, suggested that his own dating was more correct than Mihail Ivanovič Rostovcev’s (1870–1952):

“We have the riddles of Seima + Galich and the Bessarabian hoard + Seima (Rig essay). Maikop and the Kuban could be dated with the help of them until we gain absolutely definite Oriental bases for this. The only possibility would be to date the Bessarab[ian] [Borodino]13 hoard to be even older, but would this not be inconceivable when we the combination with socketed axes, definitely at least with the mould from Tomsk. These things could not be older than the very earliest High Mycenaean, is it not so? Tripol’e would be somewhat older than the large kurgans of the Kuban, but at Elam, is it not so, that there is the pottery together with archaic products of art, the offshoots of which the Kuban vases are, according to Rostovtseff. It’s a vicious circle. But these questions are terribly interesting, and I would really rather live in Odessa or Constantinople than in Helsinki or Tartu. What have we here or there? Neither sufficient collections nor literature.” (NLF, SLSA 652, Tallgren to C. A. Nordman, 12 Feb. 1922.)14

A third Finnish scholar, Julius Ailio (1872–1933) responded to Tallgren in 1922 in his work on the Russian Stone Age. The reply was polemical and bitter, as it was part of the contest for the professorship in archaeology at the University of Helsinki. Ailio sought to demonstrate his knowledge of eastern archaeology with this publication. He felt that Comb Ware and Fat’janovo were in no way connected. He also denied a connection between the Fat’janovo finds and Galič, although he was prepared to include the finds from Galič, Sejma and Volosovo in a Fat’janovo Culture interpreted in broader terms. He wanted to link Sejma above all with Tripol’e. According to Ailio, Fat’janovo pottery pointed to Central Europe, the Kuban and Tripol’e15 alike and since typological studies had not been carried out it was impossible to say which of these roots was the main one. In any case, he rejected the mainly Central European origin assumed by Tallgren. Ailio regarded the Fat’janovo Culture to be a broader chronological phenomenon than suggested by Tallgren (Ailio 1922: 80–87). This debate was clearly raised by general circumstances. The new independent states of Europe regarded archaeology as a tool for building national identity, and therefore also new university chairs were founded. Without this situation, Ailio would never have had any interest in challenging Tallgren in this field of research.

During these years, however, Tallgren’s main contact in discussing issues of the Russian Bronze Age was the German archaeologist Gero Merhart von Bernegg (1886–1959).16 This was so despite the fact that Tallgren’s main interests concerned Russia in Europe, while Merhart addressed European research problems from the perspective of Siberia (NLF, Coll. 230, Gero von Merhart to Tallgren 26 Oct.1922, 20 Dec. 1922, 26 March 1923; more extensively see Salminen 2010). It is obvious that the difficulties of maintaining contact with Russia made the exchange of opinions between Tallgren and Merhart more lively and more crucial for both than it would have otherwise been. It also largely replaced Russian-Western discussion.

Merhart had been taken as prisoner of war to West Siberia where he had the opportunity to work in Siberian archaeology before returning home in 1921. He was originally a geologist (Parzinger 2008). In 1922, Tallgren asked Merhart which direction of influence was indicated by the similarities of artefact forms between Sejma and Minusinsk, to which Merhart replied that he was completely convinced that it was from west to east. Merhart asked whether the whole bronze culture of Minusinsk could be a late phenomenon. Also in his later letters, Merhart noted that the artefact forms of Sejma were alien to Siberia and had degenerated there (NLF, Coll. 230, Merhart to Tallgren 20 Dec.1922, see also 26 March 1923, 5 Sept. 1923; cf. Tallgren 1920a: 67).

Also in 1922, M I Rostovcev published his book Iranians and Greeks in South Russia, dating Majkop in it to the 3rd millennium BCE (Rostovtzeff 1922: 22–32). Merhart preferred to rely on the 2nd millennium date given by Farmakovskij (NLF, Coll. 230, Merhart to Tallgren 22 June 1923; Фармаковскiй 1914: 50, also 51–76; Ivanova 2007: 8).

The young Russian scholar Mihail Georgievič Hudjakov (1894–1936) wrote to Tallgren in February 1923, describing, among other things, V A Gorodcov’s recent excavations in the Kazan’ region. According to him, the finds showed that in East Russia a specific Maklašeevka Culture could be distinguished that was contemporary with the Fat’janovo Culture and dated from the beginning of the second millennium. Towards the end of the millennium there was a mixture of peoples and cultures in the Volga-Kama region from which the Anan’ino Culture evolved. According to Hudjakov’s suggestion, the finds from Sejma could possibly be included among the early remains of the Anan’ino Culture. He regarded the Sejma phenomenon as having spread west from Siberia, i.e. the opposite direction as suggested for example by Merhart (NLF, Coll. 230, Hudjakov to Tallgren 21 Feb. 1923).

Hudjakov agreed with Tallgren that the same population lived in the Volga-Kama region in the early Bronze Age as in the Neolithic. On the other hand, he wanted to distinguish the Early and Late Bronze Age cultures from each other. Hudjakov regarded the Siberian cultural features as proof that the new population had come from the east. Hudjakov also felt that Gorodcov had been mistaken in identifying a distinct Sejma Culture. For him, Sejma was instead an early stage of the Anan’ino Culture (NLF, Coll. 230, Hudjakov to Tallgren 8 March 1923).

Merhart reiterated his view of cultural influence from west to east in November 1923 and noted that he agreed with Tallgren He stated: “Ich fürchte China nicht. Vielleicht ist das respektlos gegen das alte Land, aber ich glaube nicht an viele Einflüsse von dort nach Sibirien. Erst Han.” (NLF, Coll. 230, Merhart to Tallgren 3 Nov. 1923.)

Tallgren and Merhart discussed the Sejma find extensively, being particularly preoccupied by the relationship of the find with the Bronze Age of Hungary. Since the find had come to light recently, most of the questions remained open, as also reflected in Merhart’s words: “Seima ist voll Rätseln”. He was not prepared to date Sejma to be as old as Tallgren wished, i.e. to 1600–1400 BCE, although it had to predate 1000 BCE because of the axes, among other material. He was also concerned about annoying Tallgren with his heretical views that the latter had created a fine order for the Russian Bronze Age: ”Ich möchte Dispute niemals auf Kosten der guten persönlichen Beziehungen führen.” (NLF, Coll. 230, Merhart to Tallgren 26 March 1923.)

In August 1924, Merhart wrote to Tallgren that he had discussed the mutual relationship of Sejma, Galič and Fat’janovo with Paul Reinecke (1872–1958) in Munich. With reference to the new finds of which Tallgren passed on information to him, Merhart had now regarded Tallgren’s earlier assumptions as logically impossible. Sejma and the treasure of Galič had to be from the same date but they had nothing to do with Fat’janovo. Merhart wished to date Fat’janovo to around 2000 and Sejma thus to ca. 1200. The pottery from Turbino and Sejma corresponded to each other, but they had nothing to do with Fat’janovo. At Galič, according to him, the hoard and the dwelling site were distinct both chronologically and culturally, while Tallgren regarded them as part of the same cultural phase (NLF, Coll. 230, Merhart to Tallgren 22–23 Aug. 1924).

Tallgren replied to Merhart with two letters, only one of which survives. In this letter he complained that there were obscurities and analogies everywhere. In any case, Fat’janovo could not be as early as Merhart had suggested, which would make the chronological difference between Fat’janovo and Galič 800 years (VSPU, Merhart/Privat, Tallgren to Merhart 4 Sept. 1924).

Merhart continued his argumentation. If Tallgren was correct and the Fat’janovo culture was contemporaneous with the Galič hoard, Sejma should be of the same age as some Neolithic culture of geographical proximity. On the other hand, there were parallels to the dagger from Galič in the finds from the Sejma cemetery. Thus, if Tallgren were right, Sejma would be as old as Fat’janovo. Because of the stone axes found there, Fat’janovo, could not be much younger than the Late Neolithic of Central Europe. This would mean that in Central Russia, the Eneolithic coincided with a culture that used quite developed axes. These, in turn, would then have been considerably older in the east than in the west if the western axes could be derived from eastern examples. Merhart suggested that Sejma could be dated to around 1000 BCE and that it had influenced the cultures of Siberia.

Merhart asked if Galič could have been a mediating factor between Fat’janovo and Sejma. He did not, however, feel this was possible, since he did not see any signs of the Copper Age in the culture, regarding it instead as a hybrid of Stone Age and fully developed Bronze Age culture. Merhart also doubted whether the Kuban could be as old as claimed by Rostovcev, although some of the spiral beads from there were from the Copper Age. How would the intervening long period be filled (NLF, Coll. 230, Merhart to Tallgren 10 Sept. 1924)?

Merhart repeated in his next letter that he could date Sejma to slightly before 1000, because of the general prevalence of hybrid forms at the time. Merhart suggested they dated from between 2000 and 1500 BCE and Majkop would have influenced Galič directly, and Kuban in turn Galič indirectly. Could the Fat’janovo graves not be slightly older than Galič, approximately as old as Majkop with Galič thus a later wave of settlement from the south (NLF, Coll. 230, Merhart to Tallgren 4 Oct. 1924)?

Tallgren’s 1924 analysis of the Fat’janovo Culture

Tallgren’s article Fatjanovokulturen i Centralryssland also appeared in 1924. Since 1917 Tallgren had not been able to travel in Russia to get acquainted with new finds and other results of fieldwork. In this text he noted once again that Fat’janovo, Galič and Sejma were linked by ceramics. Western parallels were to be found in the single-grave cultures of Denmark and Germany. Tallgren dated the beginning of the Fat’janovo Culture to the first half of the Danish passage-grave period, to ca. 2000 BCE in absolute terms, possibly a couple of centuries earlier. He regarded Rostovcev’s dating of Majkop to 3000–2500 BCE as too early, and he placed the end of Fat’janovo to ca.1500 (Tallgren 1920b; 1924). On the other hand, Aleksej Viktorovič Schmidt (Šmidt) suggested that the Galič hoard would be from around 1300 BCE (NLF, Coll. 230, A V Schmidt to Tallgren 12 Jan. 1925).

Travel abroad became gradually possible as the economic situation improved in the 1920s. C A Nordman met Paul Reinecke in Munich while travelling in Germany in the autumn of 1924, but he did not visit Merhart in Innsbruck. Merhart explained his views to Nordman in a letter, saying outright that he did not recognize as his own words what Reinecke claimed he had said. Merhart also had an explanation why Reinecke considered cultures in different terms than he did: Reinecke was not used to the idea of coexistent mutually different forms of culture (NLF, SLSA 652, Merhart to Nordman 30 Nov. 1924). This contradiction appears to have made Nordman blurt out to his Finnish colleague Aarne Europaeus (from 1930 Äyräpää, 1887–1971):

“There are few things that I’m certain of: one of the benchmarks is that German archaeologists, despite a lot of skill, are not good for anything. A further point is that despite all damnable things the sun often rises in the east. I am returning more and more to old [illegible word] thesis of the importance of the east and SM’s [Sophus Müller’s] arguments that all the Nordic Late Stone Age is the metal age in a different material. I made the Corded Ware folk knights of a kind on fast horses, riding northwest from the steppes of South Russia and shooting arrows with composite bows. That they really had the composite, i.e. Asian, bow, which was not even known in West, Central and Northern Europe seems certain and [illegible word] is correct.” (ANBA, Nordman to Europaeus 18 Dec. 1924.)17

Sophus Müller was Nordman’s father-in-law, which may also have influenced his thinking.

Merhart appears to have met Reinecke in March 1925, after which Reinecke wrote to Nordman with the suggestion that the latter had misunderstood him. Reinecke was of the opinion that the Galič bronze hoard had nothing to do with Fat’janovo and was from ca. 700 BCE. He maintained that also Sejma, the Borodino hoard and the graves of the Caucasus were contemporaneous. Although Fat’janovo was completely separate from this, it could neither be associated with the Scandinavian passage grave culture, since the battle axe of the Corded Ware culture was a metal-period form. Reinecke could not give an absolute date for Fat’janovo, but suggested that it coincided with Montelius’s periods I and II of the Bronze Age, i.e. possibly 1200–1000 BCE. He felt that Merhart was bound too much to old published views of the matter (NLF, SLSA 652, Reinecke to Nordman 2 April 1925).

In addition to Merhart and Russian and Finnish colleagues, Tallgren discussed these issues with Gordon Childe (1892–1957) (Fig. 5), who admitted that the Kuban chronology was obscure and that the connections between the Kuban and the Mediterranean region were not known. Nor was Mesopotamia of any help for dating, since many of the artefact types had survived for very long periods (NLF, Coll. 230, V G Childe to Tallgren 1 Jan. 1925). For Childe, the cultures of the Russian steppes were of significance as the roots of European phenomena and he discussed them in The Dawn of European Civilization, which appeared in the same year. He, too, linked Fat’janovo with Kuban, along with Central Europe and Jutland. On the other hand, he said it was difficult to explain the connections. Childe was not prepared outright to accept the interpretation given by Kossinna and other Germans of a belligerent Germanic population spreading east from Europe, but with the information available to him, Childe supported Kossinna’s view of a migration that came from the west. Childe cited Tallgren (Childe 1925: 138–151). On the other hand, the views of Childe and Tallgren differed considerably in that Tallgren regarded the Copper Age of the Kuban as a continuation of Fat’janovo, while Childe maintained that the Kuban was the giving party and Fat’janovo the receiving party (Childe 1925: 225–226).

Figure 5 

Vere Gordon Childe and the Polish archaeologist Włodzimierz Antoniewicz at the Oslo Archaeological Conference in 1936. Moora family collection.

In his following letter to Tallgren Childe admitted:

“Your arguments on the chronology are most convincing – so much so indeed that I have recalled from the printer the last chapter of my popular book on the ‘Aryans’. In that I have followed Peake and Myres in locating the Urheimat in S. Russia and identifying the earliest ochre-grave folk with the Ur-Indogermanen. Such a view of course depended upon the possibility of dating the earliest ochre-graves before the Danish Enkelt-graves or the Thuringian barrows with Schnurkeramik and Kugelamphoren. After your study of the beads and your previous article on Galich I fear that view can no longer be maintained and I must join the Germanists.”

Chronology now made it impossible to identify the red-ochre grave population as pre-Indo-Germanic. Regarding the dating of the red-ochre graves, Childe noted, however, that the “IInd millennium is enough”. (NLF, Coll. 230, Childe to Tallgren 7 Sept. 1925.) In his book on the Aryans he now regarded the majority of the Indo-Europeans (which he called Aryans) to have been the descendants of the Nordic Battle-Axe people (Childe 1926: 200–204).

In January 1926, Childe wrote again to say that although he would like to follow Rostovcev’s earlier dating, he may ultimately have to accept Tallgren’s chronology: “[It] overthrows a very pretty theory which I am reluctant to sacrifice, but when I read your new article, I expect I shall finally recant.” (NLF, Coll. 230, Childe to Tallgren 27 Jan. p. a. [1926], see also 7 Feb. 1926, Merhart to Tallgren 2 Aug. 1925.)

After meeting Tallgren in Leningrad in the late summer of 1925 Mihail Hudjakov changed his views concerning the Sejma finds. He wrote to Tallgren in September and asked if he did not see southern influences in them. “Gorodcov’s Siberian theory must fall.” (NLF, Coll. 230, Hudjakov to Tallgren 17 Sept. 1925.) In his next letter Hudjakov even went so far as to describe Gorodcov’s theory of separate Russian development to be obsolete. Tallgren’s work had convinced him that the evolution of culture in Russia must be viewed in connection with the regions of the Black Sea and the Mediterranean. The Caucasus and Asia Minor were also of central importance. Hudjakov implied that he believed Tallgren’s dates for Fat’janovo and other cultures to be correct, for he wrote that before Tallgren no one had dated these cultures correctly (NLF, Coll. 230, Hudjakov to Tallgren 5 Oct. 1925).

After returning from his long trip to the Soviet Union in the summer of 1925, Tallgren wrote to Europaeus that the pot sherds from Sejma that he had brought with him were, in his opinion, Fat’janovo Ware. (ANBA, Äyräpää, Tallgren to Europaeus 25 Aug. 1925.) Despite this, Tallgren gave Sejma an even later date than previously. He wrote to Merhart, saying that he had pondered the dating of Sejma and had arrived at the following: red-ochre graves 2000–1200, primarily ca. 1400 BCE, Tripol’e older than these, Fat’janovo, the Kuban and Troy II 1700–1500, Galič 1300, Borodino and Sejma 1300–1200, Koban 1200–1000. According to Tallgren, Nordman concurred and adapted the Nordic chronology to these dates, trying to shorten it. Tallgren felt that he could not follow “brave Reinecke”, since Borodino was chronologically linked to Mycenae and not Hallstatt (VSPU, Merhart/Privat, Tallgren to Merhart 29 Oct. 1925; see also NLF, Coll. 230, Merhart to Tallgren 12 Dec. 1925).

In the following spring, Merhart wrote of Tallgren’s dating of Sejma: “… es mir so nahe kommt, dass ich höchstens um 2–300 Jahre tiefer herunter gehen möchte. Vielleicht lasse ich aber einmal davon nach und wir kommen ganz zusammen.” (NLF, Coll. 230, Merhart to Tallgren 13 April 1926.) This shows that Merhart’s interpretation of the issue had changed, although he maintained that Sejma and Fat’janovo could not belong together.

Around this time, Mihail Rostovcev also admitted in a letter to Tallgren that Majkop could be dated later than he had done, to the end of the third millennium BCE or the beginning of the second, as it had analogies not only in Pre-Dynastic Egypt but also in Troy (NLF, Coll. 230, Rostovcev to Tallgren 5 Oct. 1925).

Syntheses by Gero von Merhart and A M Tallgren

Merhart’s synthesis also of the Bronze Age west of the Urals appeared in his study Bronzezeit am Jenissei, in which he reiterated the point that Galič and Fat’janovo were not connected and that Sejma could not be 800–1000 years older than Anan’ino. The beginning of the Anan’ino Culture could be dated to around 600 BCE with the related flow of cultural influence passing from west to east (Merhart 1926: 19, 69–, 83, 96–97, 181–182 etc.).

Tallgren’s interpretations changed gradually after he had analysed the material from Ukraine, which he had collected during his trip in 1925. No doubt his exchanges of views with Merhart had also influenced this change.

In the spring of 1926 Gregor Boroffka (Grigorij Iosifovič Borovka, 1894–1941)18 noted that he was eagerly waiting for Tallgren’s new La Pontide préscythique après l’introduction des métaux, as it would shed light on cultural developments between Tripol’e and the Scyths, an issue in which chaos reigned for the time being (NLF, Coll. 230, Gregor Boroffka to Tallgren 9 May 1926). He regarded the chronological system of Merhart’s work on the Yenisei as mostly mistaken. It was already known that Sergej Aleksandrovič Teplouhov (1888–1934) would soon publish a new periodization of West Siberian prehistory (NLF, Coll. 230, Boroffka to Tallgren 29 Dec. 1926).

In his book, Tallgren dated Troy II–V and accordingly Fat’janovo to 2000–1700 BCE and Galič to the Bronze Age, to 1400–1100. According to this interpretation, Sejma dated from 1300–1100 and was thus almost contemporaneous with Galič. It belonged to the same cultural complex as Fat’janovo and Galič. Tallgren assumed it to be of Central European origin and he characterized the culture as a whole as Stone-Bronze Age. With regard to the west, Tallgren maintained that Troy VI–VIII and Unětice-Lausitz were contemporaneous with Sejma. He dated Anan’ino to the period 700–200. Tallgren’s dates thus approached those proposed by Merhart. It is particularly noteworthy that he now made a distinction between Galič and Fat’janovo and suggested that the chronological difference between Sejma and Anan’ino was only 400 years (Tallgren 1926: 87, 92, 134–142, 180–185, see also 216–217). In the previous year, he had placed the beginning of Kuban to 1700 BCE (Tallgren 1925: 76).

Tallgren’s new work aroused active interest also among Soviet archaeologists, although they made only a few comments about it. A V Schmidt observed that Tallgren had reversed the traditional idea of ex oriente lux to ex occidente lux (NLF, Coll. 230, Schmidt to Tallgren 5 Nov. 1926). In 1928, Schmidt wrote that he agreed with Tallgren regarding the dating of Majkop (NLF, Coll. 230, Schmidt to Tallgren 30 Jan. 1928). The earlier tradition of archaeological interpretation was not abandoned in the Soviet Union yet, but the ideological reassessment was just about to begin, to be followed soon by political purges also in the archaeological community (Trigger 2006: 326–344; Свешникова 2009: 38–48, 58–69; Платонова 2010: 232–235).

Despite all the interest that was shown, A A Spicyn was the only one to give even some kind of detailed feedback regarding Tallgren’s work, stating that while Fat’janovo Ware pointed to the west, this pottery had most probably come from the east and that it was hardly yet possible to solve this issue in any final manner. Sejma was a complex phenomenon and Galič could be younger than Sejma. He was not convinced by Tallgren’s chronology, which was based on the notions of western scholars, which did not seem too permanent. The general conclusions were disputable; settlement had originally come from the east, the western contacts were of later date and did not extend further east than the Dnepr and Sura rivers. The current of cultural influence had passed from east to west (NLF, Coll. 230, Spicyn to Tallgren 22 April 1927, published in Кузьминых 2011: 20–21). Spicyn thus kept strictly to his eastern perspective in this question.

Consensus between Tallgren and Merhart

Tallgren finally came to the conclusion that Merhart had been correct in his interpretation of Sejma. The finds from Turbino, showing that there were no separate Copper and Bronze Age layers at Sejma, were decisive at this change. Instead, the complex of finds was of Bronze Age date, from 1200–1100 BCE. Tallgren now regarded Galič as partly older than Sejma and partly contemporaneous, but in any case later than 1300. Anan’ino began around 700 BCE and its chronological difference with regard to Sejma was thus 300–400 years. Tallgren based these dates on “Post or Sub-Mycenaean” brooches of the period 1200–1000 found at Koban. The Koban material could be dated as contemporaneous with the finds from Sejma, Saratov, Borodino, Andronovo and Hvalynsk, which Tallgren jointly termed “Paleo-Metal Period II”. Majkop-Fat’janovo-Marschwitz would have begun around 1800 BCE. The duration of these cultures would thus have been roughly 800 years longer than Tallgren had suggested to Merhart in 1924 (Tallgren 1931b: 88–89, 94, 96).

Even now, the dates proposed by Tallgren were not completely established. Writing about the megaliths of the Caucasus for the Ellis Minns Festschrift in 1934, he still maintained that the megalith culture of the Caucasus was a branch of the European megalith culture and he sought to link the chronology of the Caucasus with the west. The chronology had undergone minor changes. Tallgren suspected that A V Schmidt’s dating of the Kuban Culture was too early. Schmidt, in agreement with Rostovcev, placed its beginning to 3200–3000 and its end to the period 2500–2300. Tallgren’s doubts were based on the fact that the early date could not be combined with the European material. He surmised out that if the dating to the fourth millennium was correct, this would be a fatal blow to the European archaeological method. Tallgren now based his dating especially on the recent results of Nils Åberg’s (1888–1957) work. Tallgren identified parallels to Troy II–V on the steppes, dating these phases to 1600–1200. He regarded the pit graves of Mycenae to be contemporaneous with the Middle Kuban period and the large kurgan of Majkop, to which he gave the absolute date of 1600–1500 (Tallgren 1934: 28–37; see also Childe 1925: 28; Schmidt 1929: 21; Tallgren 1929: 39; Tallgren 1931a: 144).19 In a letter to Tallgren, Nils Åberg said that he was glad that Tallgren had not changed his views on chronology from what was stated in the proofs of the article, which the latter had shown to him. The letter thus indicates, on the one hand, that Tallgren pondered and considered issues of chronology to the very end, while on the other hand he had asked Åberg for comments on his views (NLF, Coll. 230, Åberg to Tallgren 5 Aug. 1934).

Tallgren went on to exchange views in the 1930s with Stefan Przeworski (1900–1940), Henri Frankfort (1897–1954) and Gordon Childe about the overall relationship between the Caucasus and Asia Minor. (NLF, Coll. 230, Stefan Przeworski to Tallgren 22 Aug. 1936, 25 May 1938, Tallgren to Henri Frankfort (draft) p. d. 1939, 27 March 1939, Frankfort to Tallgren 5 Feb. 1939, Childe to Tallgren 5 June 1940.)

The Bronze Age and the networks of archaeologists

The interpretations present in the discussion were generally based on artefact forms and their similarities. The most central antiquities in this respect were the cemetery of Fat’janovo, the hoard and settlement of Galič and the finds of Sejma. The same material was known to all participants of the discussion, and it was question of interpretation how to read it. Relatively little room was left for theoretical speculation when concrete problems of research were addressed. This was so despite Tallgren’s growing interest in theoretical questions in the 1930s and despite discrepancies in different scholars’ approaches (Kivikoski 1954: 110–111; Salminen 2003b: 150–151). At the most they could concern issues such as time-lag that needed to be taken into account in the passage of cultural influences.

From an international standpoint, Tallgren’s interpretation of 1908 and 1911 meant a return to the basic approach presented by Sophus Müller in 1882 (see above). In the Finnish context, it was a complete reassessment of the whole complex of problems and the cultural connections in Russia and Siberia.

Tallgren’s exchanges of views with Childe and Nordman connected the debate on the Russian Bronze Age and Late Neolithic with discussion on the prehistory of Western Europe and Scandinavia (Salminen 2014b; see also Salminen forthcoming). The uniting factors were the Mediterranean regions and the Battle Axe Cultures. Because Tallgren and Merhart had different starting points in their research and looked at the Russian Bronze Age from different directions, they could mutually help each other to find solutions to the complex of problems troubling them.

The discussion shows two separate communities of interpretation, one in the west and the other in Russia. In both contexts, the Bronze Age had a strong nationalistic connection, which easily led to conflicting interpretations (on nationalism in 19th-century archaeology, see Trigger 2006: 211–250; Платонова 2010: 44–58). While Tallgren had broken most of his ties with the Finnish-nationalistic interpretations of the earlier generations of archaeologists, he nonetheless belonged to the western tradition of interpretation. Discussion on the eastern Bronze Age still belonged to western archaeological research in the late 19th century, although there was practically no primary research on the theme by other western scholars than Finns and Hungarians. The revolutions of 1917 in Russia broke this connection not only by severing many personal contacts between scholars but also by adding a new layer of ideology to the Russian-Slavic view of prehistory (see, e. g. Свешникова 2009: 38–).

Although western scholars generally supported an interpretation of cultural currents from west to east, there were exceptions to this rule, such as Nordman’s inclination to believe in the opposite direction of cultural influence. A stream from west to east also conflicted also the traditional view of the cultures of the Middle East as the source of the most essential cultural developments in Europe. For Germanists, such as Kossinna, the question was of ideological prestige but there is no evidence that, for example, Tallgren and Merhart would have had an ideological need for that kind of explanation. Subconscious factors underlying their conclusions, however, cannot be denied.

Because there was no established tradition of eastern research in Western Europe, there were, at least in principle, no preconceived interpretations of the Bronze Age of northern Eurasia tying the hands and minds of researchers. On the other hand, the eastern cultures had to be incorporated into the system of Western and Central European prehistory, which caused several difficulties and conflicting opinions, partly of ideological character.

In the east, Gorodcov’s and Spicyn’s generation had formulated the first general overviews of the prehistory of Russia. To challenge their most crucial explanation model, a stream of cultural influence from the south and east to the west, was an attack not only against the established and generally accepted model of the relationship between Russia and the west but also against their personal scholarly achievements. For some representatives of the younger generation, such as Hudjakov and Schmidt, it was easier to re-estimate the image of cultural development, but they were also more inclined to rely on the idea of Russia’s cultural independence from the west. Hudjakov’s original position reflected the aim of underlining the cultural independence of the Volga-Kama region during the Bronze Age and a stream of cultural influence from east to west, but he later mostly accepted Tallgren’s views. On the whole, the Russian model of explanation remained so distant from the interpretations of western archaeologists that no real discussion between them came about.

Essentially, the discussion between like-minded archaeologists was not a debate. Instead, a group of scholars sought solutions to shared problems. The closer the relationship between the discussants became, the more tentative ideas were tested between them. Because the opinions were mostly expressed in private letters instead of publications, there was no need to over-emphasize one’s own expertise, and also uncertainty could be expressed freely (cf. Salminen 2014b). The aspect of debate, however, emerged in relation to Russian colleagues.

How much did the participants influence each other? During the course of the discussion, Tallgren’s views approached those of Gero von Merhart, while Gordon Childe’s position was influenced by Tallgren. Rostovcev and Schmidt can also be regarded as having influenced Tallgren. It was a continuous process, in which the interpretations changed little by little, without any sudden changes of paradigm. It is also noteworthy that Tallgren’s visits to the Soviet Union did not result in any immediate changes in his interpretations, but instead the changes occurred independently. This detail, among others, shows the separateness of the western and eastern communities of interpretation.

Tallgren had a key role in the correspondence. He was J R Aspelin’s pupil and had inherited the scholarly and ideological tasks that Aspelin had set for Finnish archaeology and Aspelin’s attitude towards Russia as a scholarly colony of Finnish archaeology. However, he had shown his teacher’s ideas to be outdated and turned to a more international approach (Salminen 2003a; 2007). But, on the other hand, he considered himself also a pupil of A A Spicyn because of their lively contacts since 1908. Tallgren always felt great respect to Spicyn, although he could not approve of all of his archaeological results (Tallgren 1932a; Кузьминых 2011). His relation to Gorodcov was more strained (NLF Coll. 230: Merhart to Tallgren, Apr 7, 1925, Oct 14, 1925). Some young Russian and Soviet archaeologists, before all M G Hudjakov, regarded Tallgren as their teacher (Грищкина & Кузьминых 2008: 9).

At the peak of his career, Tallgren served as a mediator between Soviet and western archaeology by editing the journal Eurasia Septentrionalis Antiqua where both Soviet and European researchers could get their studies published (Kokkonen 1994). Moreover, when the repressions of Stalin regime began in the Soviet Union, Tallgren did not hide his opinion but expressed his criticism openly in three essays and overviews, the first of which was an open letter to the scientific administration of the USSR (Tallgren 1928; 1932b; 1936a: 149–151; Тункина 2000). In his extensive paper on the theory of archaeology, he opposed all totalitarian attempts to utilize archaeology for their purposes. As special examples he mentioned Soviet Union and Nazi Germany (Tallgren 1936b: 18–19; 1937: 155).20 His criticism of 1936 led the Soviet government to break his contacts with their country altogether. It was one of the reasons that also compelled him to close his journal in 1938 (Salminen 2014a: 116–120, 243, 248–249; Kokkonen 1994).

It can easily be seen that it was a series of separate discussions between Tallgren and each of his colleagues rather than any real multilateral network of researchers involved. Only Gorodcov and Minns corresponded to some extent on the same theme. Without Tallgren and his personal knowledge of archaeological material and scholars from both east and west, the discussion would have taken a different form or remained completely non-existent.

Despite its roots in the 19th century, the discussion emerged in earnest only when the European scholarly community was trying to recover from the First World War. Also contacts with Russia, by then the Soviet Union, were revived to some extent, which made new impulses possible, even consensus in some questions of interpretation. However, the isolation of the Soviet Union from the west in the 1930s made further exchange of ideas between eastern and western scholars impossible and the discussion died down.

English translation by Jüri Kokkonen.

Archival Sources

Archives of the National Board of Antiquities of Finland, Helsinki (ANBA)

  • – Äyräpää: correspondence to Aarne Europaeus/Äyräpää

The Antiquarian-Topographical Archives of the Swedish National Heritage Board, Stockholm (ATA)

  • – Ensk/84: correspondence to Oscar Montelius
  • – Ensk/134: correspondence to Nils Åberg

Archives of the Finnish Antiquarian Society, Helsinki (FASA)

  • – Aspelin: correspondence to J R Aspelin

The National Library of Finland, Helsinki (NLF)

  • – Coll. 230: correspondence to A M Tallgren
  • – SLSA 652: The Archives of the Swedish Literature Society of Finland, correspondence to C A Nordman

University of Uppsala, Museum Gustavianum, Research Department (UUMG)

  • – Lindqvist: correspondence to Sune Lindqvist

The Seminar of Prehistory of the Philipps-University of Marburg (VSPU)

  • – Merhart: correspondence to Gero von Merhart