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Klejn L.S. Archaeological sources (abstract)

Publ. in Russian (1978) by Leningrad University, the second edition (1995) at Farn, St. Petersburg

By Leo S. Klejn


This book is a new expanded edition (1993) of Klejn's first book. Published in Leningrad in 1978, when its author was already over fifty, in a print run of 6000 copies, it immediately became a bibliographical rarity. The entire stock was bought up just in few days. The book provoked heated debates in Soviet archaeology, it was the subject of many articles, and more articles keep appearing even now!  So the book is not out of date. It evoked a sharp interest and great demand because in the form of a study manual, written in an everyday, and even entertaining, language, the author presented a new concept of archaeology, different from that which had dominated Soviet scholarship for the previous half a century.


He analyzed the fundamental concept of archaeology, namely, the notion of the archaeological record (archaeological source), and our relation to it. He also gave an analysis of the essence of archaeology, its distinctive nature as a discipline - its goals, limitations and possibilities. The process of archaeological research and its difference from historical studies based on a written record are thoroughly considered there. The author argues against fusing archeology with history (or likening archaeology to history) but does not believe that this entails a separation of archaeology from the goals of historical research. He views history as a work of synthesis, and archaeology as a source study discipline, which serves as one of the components of historical synthesis. To him the distinctive nature of the archaeological record (archaeological source) is in the fact that artifacts are twice removed from the researcher’s intelligence: they are removed from the concepts and words (necessary to describe the past) and they are removed from the contemporary reality (in which the researcher lives). These conditions suggest the special difficulty of archaeological interpretation.


The originality and relevance of the book are determined by three factors. Firstly, by the fact that these assumptions contradict Artsikhovsky’s – Rybakov’s theory, which at that time had a predominant role in the Soviet scholarship. Artsikhovsky viewed archaeology as “a history, armed with a spade”. By declaring this slogan Soviet ideologists intended to make a distinction between the Marxist archaeology and the bourgeois one.


Secondly, using archaeology as an example, Klejn developed a new theory of epistemology different from Lenin's “theory of reflection”. This new theory is much more complex, it divides epistemological process into many stages and implies an active contribution by the subject of research – the investigator.


Thirdly, the ideas formulated in this book in the late 70s have switched the focus of archeology from historical events and processes to a correlation of the archaeological record with them, i.e. to the formation of the record. A similar shift was observed at the same time in the US archeology (cf. the contrast between Michael Schiffer's “Behavioral  archaeology” and Lewis Binford’s “processual”  or New Archaeology).


The Member of the Academy of Sciences B. B. Piotrovsky, the director of the Hermitage Museum at that time, in his preface to the first edition noted that “L.S. Klejn’s book is the first generalizing work” of such type. “Problems raised by L.S. Klejn, and the solutions he proposes, often in a polemically controversial manner, are, without a doubt, of an undisputable scientific interest. The book is written in a fascinating, vivid and sharp manner; it contains a great amount of material; presents different points of views and poses fundamental theoretical questions; this book never leaves the reader indifferent but makes him thinking”.


The book was translated and published in one of the former Yugoslav Republics (now Slovenia) as a part of “Studia Humanitatis” series, dedicated to publishing of the outstanding thinkers of science (including Freud, Max Weber, Habermas etc.). In a review rejected in the Soviet era and published ten years later in Russian journal “The Issues in the history of natural and technical science” (1991, 4) four prominent archaeologists (Grigor’ev et al.) predicted that this book would be considered a classic of archaeology. Indeed, recently (1995), the St. Petersburg branch of the Institute of Natural and Cultural Heritage published a new edition of this book as a part of the series “Classics of archaeology.” This was the second book to be published in the series, the work of Rostovtsev being the first.

For the present edition, the author has added two new chapters, more illustrations, a glossary of the basic archeological concepts and indices. With the author's consent, an article of his disciple E. M. Kolpakov has been also included; this contains sharp criticism of the author’s ideas and is followed by a short reply by the author. The total length of the book is about 350 pages.  

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From the Publisher

Author’s foreword to the second edition

Foreword to the first edition by B.B. Piotrovsky

Introduction. ‘Archaeological sources’ – a fundamental concept of archaeology

Chapter I. In the historical perspectiv

1.       The current situation and historical roots

2.       Distinguishing the concept of ‘historical sources’ (the ‘historical record’)

3.       The Limitation of the concept with the emergence and development of the criticism of sources

4.       Remnants and the tradition

5.       The distinctiveness of the concept of ‘archaeological sources’

6.       Difficulties of perception

7.       Is there historical information in archaeological sources?

8.        Do archaeological sources per se exist?

Chapter II. Within the system of concepts

1.       Sources in the cognition of the past

2.       Historical sources – borders and selection

3.       The paradox of source study

4.       Reflection on the material sources

5.       Words and things: unusual translation

6.       Where is the end of archaeology?

7.       Archaeological reflection

8.       Material antiquities

9.       The distinctive nature of archaeological sources

Chapter III. From archaeological to historical sources

1.       Treasures of the first century

2.       The tger without a tail, the elk without antlers

3.       Bowls instead of treaties?

4.       Archaeological sources, the bread of history

5.       The argument with BB on KB

6.       Two programs: the traditional comparison by the size

7.       The revision of the comparison by the size

8.       Two programs: the comparison by the structure

9.       The comparison of functions

10.     The sequence of operations

Chapter IV. Different Kinds of archaeological sources

1.       Antique – Monument – Artifact

2.       Seven views of a single concept

3.       Examining to various depths

4.       Finds and discoveries

5.       How archaeological sources were formed?

6.       Thematic division

7.       Historian and source

8.       Scheme and life

9.       Different kinds of practices and sources




Bibliography for the themes touched

Appendix I. G. P. Grigor’ev, G. S. Lebedev, A. N. Shcheglov, P. M. Dolukhanov. The rejected review 

Appendix II. E. M. Kolpakov. Why ‘archaeological sources’?

L. S. Klejn. Winnie the Pooh versus Alice. Polemical notes on E. M. Kolpakov’s article.

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