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12 April 2011

85th birthday of Sevyan Vainshtein (1926-2008)

Materials from "Letopisi Tuvy-2011". Translated by Heda Jindrak

85th birthday of Sevyan Vainshtein (1926-2008)Today marks 85 years from the day of birth of the famous Russian ethnographer and tuvinologist Sevyan Vainshtein (1926 - 2008).

 

He was born in Moscow in the family of professor of philosophy Izrail Yakovlevich Vainshtein, who was the head of a department of the Moscow Aviation Institute. According to his son's reminiscences, he was a romantic, who deeply believed in the ideals of the Revolution. He defended it as a member of the First Horse Army during the years of the Civil War. Sevyan Izrailevich's mother came to the Soviet Union from Riga. She was enthusiastic about the idea of building a new world, taught German language, and wrote poems.

 

When S. Vainshtein barely turned 10, his father was arrested as a supposed member of an anti-soviet terrorist organization.  He was sentenced to 8 years in prison. In early 1938 he was executed by shooting. The family's apartment and property was confiscated. Sevyan Vainshtein was put in a state boarding school for children, worked in a lumber operation, as a fireman. Any way he could, he helped the front. (ed. note: during WWII). But his mother remained homeless for a long time. After the XX congress of the Communist Party, his father was fully rehabilitated.

 

In 1945, after finishing middle school  as an extern, S. Vainshtein attended MGU. He studied at the department of Oriental studies at the History  faculty of MGU. In 1947 he received a prestigious university prize fro his paper "Religious and philosophical teachings of the medieval Ishmaelite sect", written  with the use of Persian sources. He started specialization at the ethnography section.  At the beginning of the summer of 1948, he went on an expedition to the Kets together with two other students and B.O. Dolgikh as the leader. And since that long-ago time, S. Vainshtein tied his life to the Ethnographic Institute and with the science of ethnography.

 

Even though after defending his diploma work devoted to the Kets the young ethnographer was recommended as an aspirant at MGU, he decided not to go there, and leaving Moscow, he went to Siberia to study the ethnography and archeology of Tuva. This decision was influenced by discussing the matter with M. G. Levin. Already in 1949, he, being the deputy director of the Ethnography Institute,  conducted a seminar on the subject of  evolution of  use of dog sleds. Only four students took part in the seminar, including S. Vainshtein. In his lessons, Levin discussed the origin of this cultural phenomenon of the peoples of the North, using not just analysis of large amount of ethnographic data, but archeologic sources as well.

 

Therefore, having finished MGU and received an assignment to Tuva, he arrived to the capital - Kyzyl. He was appointed as the director of the National Museum (at that time it was named Tuvan regional museum of 60 heroes). In the fall of the same year he went to the neighboring Khakassia to learn about its ethnography and to take path in archeological excavations of an expedition that was working there.

A year later he began field research of Tuvan ethnography, beginning with an expedition to the south-east part of Tuva - Todzha, where reindeer herders - hunters live high in the Sayan mountains. H was not discouraged from the trip to the peaks of the Sayans even though the famous geographer V. A. Obruchev wrote that getting there through the taiga was almost impossible because of the absence of any type of road.

In 1952 the museum organized an expedition to south-east Tuva - to the high-mountain Tere-Khol district,  the population of which had never been studied by any ethnographers. East of this area lies Mongolia. The district is separated from other areas of Tuva by high mountain ridged which are hard to negotiate. It turned out that the local population mostly spoke only Mongolian language. Their material and spiritual culture was studied in detail, as well as their family structure and ethno-cultural processes. Several burial complexes and a mysterious medieval fortified town Por-Bazhyn on the Tere-Khol lake was also studied.

 

In 1953 a museum expedition led by S. Vainshtein performed archeological excavations of a cemetery in Central Tuva - in the Uyuk Valley, where monuments of the Bronze Age were discovered and studied, and in the high mountain valley Khenderge - several medieval kurgans, which significantly enriched the archeological collections of the museum.

 

In 1954 he was invited to work at the  Tuvan scientific research institute of language, literature and history  (now Tuvan institute of Humanities), where the scientist would have all the conditions for continuing ethnographic and archeological expeditions. In the same year, their main result was the discovery and excavation of a large cemetery in the Kazylgan canyon in Western Tuva mountains at the altitude of about 2000 meters in the permafrost zone. All the kurgans belonged to the Scythian era, which permitted to describe the Kazylgan culture characteristic for Tuva of that time, and to enrich the museum collections by new archeologic materials.

 

In 1956 he defended his candidate dissertation at the Institute, on the subject of historical, ethnography of Tuvans - Todzhans, after which he continued field ethnographic and archeological research in Tuva. In the same year his expedition excavated several kurgans in central Tuva, which belonged to Scythian times, and also to later stages in ethnic history of Tuva.

 

In 1957, large-scale excavations were concentrated in Ulug-Khem, Chaa-Khol and Kaa-Khem districts. Excavations of Ak-Turug burial ground in the Chaa-Khol river basin yielded brand new archeological materials. Much attention was paid to search of the cultural strata in a chain of forts which stretches from central to western Tuva along the so-called "Genghis-Khan's Road".

 

In south-east Tuva, on an island in lake Tere-Khol, excavations of the Por-Bazhyn fortress were continued; the palace of the ruler of Uighur Khanate Moyun-Chur was discovered, architectural singularities of this  monument were studied, including formal staircases with pillars and frescoes, and other main areas.

At that time S. Vainshtein's work about ethnogenesis of Tuvans was published, based on many years of research of this problem. The processes of formation of the Tuvan ethnos over the course of several centuries were analyzed, its self-reference and self-recognition. Conclusions were made that the process of ethnogenesis of Tuvans was finalized only in 19th century.

 

In 1959, at the initiative of L. P. Potapov he was invited to Moscow to work at the Ethnographic institute of AN USSR and since that time he became the head of one of the sections of Tuvan complex archeological-ethnographic expedition of the Institute performed excavations of one of the largest burial grounds of Hunno-Sarmatian era, Kokel, which permitted  to define the significant traits of the culture of that time.  He continued excavations of monuments in western Tuva in following years.

 

During the period of his stay in Tuva, as Sevyan Izrailevich himself reminisced, he arranged his life and work in such a way that in the summer he performed archeological research, and from the fall until the spring he worked up the archeological materials and continued ethnographic studies of Tuvans. During those years, he traveled to all the districts of Tuva, including even the most in accessible ones, using not simply aviation and motor vehicles, but traveling hundreds of kilometers on horseback and riding reindeer. He recorded ethnographic materials from many informants. He spent prolonged periods living in Tuvan yurts and chooms, studying their nomadic existence in detail, their material and spiritual culture; he personally participated in ceremonies and rituals met with shamans, was present at their "kamlanie" and studied the world of their ideas.

 

In 1969 at the Ethnography institute  he defended his three-volume doctoral dissertation "Origin and historical ethnography of the Tuvan people". In 1971 in the publishing house "Nauka"  his book "Historical ethnography of the Tuvan peole: problems of nomadic existence", was published,  prepared in association with the common features of nomadism in South Siberia. It was translated into English and published in Cambridge. This monograph received high acclaim not just by ethnographers but by representatives of other sciences.

 

The many years of research of Tuvan folk art, hundreds of collected artifacts and the questions of its genesis resulted in another monograph, published in Moscow in 1974.

Altogether S. Vainshtein published  seven monographs on the subject of the history, ethnography and archeology of Tuva and on the problems of the history and culture of Eurasian nomads, including their translations  abroad, as well as about three hundred scientific articles. He also succeeded in preparing fifteen candidates and doctors of sciences.

 

Two years after his 80th birthday, on October 16, 2008 Sevyan Vainshtein passed away. But even posthumously his works continue to be published and continue to astonish us by the great variety of scientific discoveries, the multifaceted creative nature of a true scholar, painstaking research worker, and a courageous man.

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