Valery Pavlovich Alexeev came to Harvard University in Summer, 1991 to teach two anthropology courses: "Peoples and Cultures of the Soviet Union" and "Archaeology of the USSR". The subject matter for this volume, "A Brief Cultural History of Eurasia as told by Professor Alexeev to his student Geraldine Reinhardt", is based on these lectures; however, much of the information has been updated to reflect the current geography of Eurasia rather than preserving the once Soviet Union.
Alexeev was considered one of the Soviet Union's most distinguished anthropologists. He directed the Institute of Archaeology in Moscow and was able to achieve full membership in the Soviet Academy of Sciences without ever having been a member of the Communist Party. He studied both ancient and contemporary cultures throughout the USSR; his studies also took him to Mongolia, Syria, India, Vietnam, and Cuba. As a staunch supporter of international collaboration way before the emergence of "perestroika", Alexeev participated in joint Soviet-American conferences on the Siberia/Alaska connection and was a paramount figure in establishing a role for Soviet scholars in Earthwatch sponsored field programs. It was Alexeev's wish to establish a world-class natural history and anthropological museum in Moscow.
Professor Alexeev was truly an exemplary scholar. He read in five languages and commented that when he would sit in his easy chair and begin to read a volume, he would forget in which language he was reading. His lectures, all in English, were prepared with care and delivered without much assistance from fancy audio-visuals except for the books he passed around and The Map.
The Map was one of Alexeev's prized possessions; he carried it in one hand and his briefcase in another. At the beginning of each class he would hand the map to one of the first row students who would then stand on a chair and attach it to its proper place on the blackboard. This ritual also took place when class ended. I recall one incident in The Yard when he and I were chatting briefly after his lecture. I turned quickly to leave and astonishingly all my papers spewed from the backpack I had forgotten to zipper. As I bent over to gather them, I looked up and there was Alexeev, briefcase in one hand and The Map in the other, laughing uproariously while apologizing that he would help if he could but his hands were full!
The former Soviet Union was a huge place. For each geographic location Alexeev would mention, he would locate it on The Map; not simply by pointing in the general direction but actually walking to The Map and finding the exact location. For most of the Russian place names, he would write them on the blackboard. And this is how we learned the geography of Eurasia.
Alexeev was a soft spoken man and began each lecture in a quiet voice and continued speaking while the classroom somehow automatically became quiet. For most of the lectures, he had us move our desks close to his; this reminded me of reading aloud time in lower school, perhaps then my most favorite "subject". But even as I write this paragraph, I can still hear his uproarious laughter, in a tone that definitely was neither meek nor mild.
Out final exam was unusual. It was held at 102 Quincy House rather than in the classroom. When we arrived, Alexeev presented us with two questions, each one different from the others, and told us to share our information. Then he left the room. All of us had typed up his lecture notes on our computers and had met as a group before the final exam to share, compare, and bone up for the exam, but we still frantically asked each other for assistance. Then Alexeev returned and the exam began. One at a time, each of us answered our two questions, and were graded on the spot. And graded fairly. But a peculiar event occurred after the exam. One of the students, actually an undergraduate, was not satisfied with her grade of A- and asked to have her grade raised to an A. Alexeev handled this situation with finesse and tact. He told her he had already written the grade on the grade sheet (which he had done) and therefore was unable to change her grade. I wonder what I would have done in a similar situation?
In reflecting back to that Summer of 1991, I most of all remember Alexeev's sense of humor. Now humor is something that is quite difficult to convey to people from another culture who also speak a different language. Humor is joke telling, wit, irony, intelligence, and perhaps most importantly, the ability to stand back and watch oneself fall. Humor in fact is humility. And it is this humility that I have attempted to convey by peppering the text with Alexeev's witty anecdotes.
Alexeev came so fleetingly into our lives yet he left us with so much. Alexeev died in Moscow in November, 1991.
When I had completed the detailed revision and editing of the lectures, I was amazed at how carefully and cleverly the information had been organized and presented. And Alexeev never used notes; all information had been precisely learned and adroitly conveyed to us, his audience, not in his native Russian but in English.
The original lectures contain an archaeology and ethnography of the then Soviet Union. The archaeology consists of specific sites, grave goods, dates (C-14 dating is available for some sites, but not for all), ethnology of skeletal evidence, and archaeologist in charge for major sites from the Paleolithic through the Neolithic. The ethnography includes languages and people in Eurasia from the early migrations of the III millennium BC to medieval times.
To the original lectures I have updated the geography to reflect Eurasia rather than the Soviet Union and expanded the text in a few ethnographic instances with information from the "Encyclopedia Britannica". With my computer modem and the Internet I was able to access the Union Catalog at Harvard via HOLLIS (Harvard On-Line Library Information System) from my study in Washington, DC. HOLLIS, an extremely valuable research tool, provided me with spellings for the authors and sites Alexeev had mentioned and enabled me to conduct searches based on author, title of volume, subject, and keyword listing. Using the keyword listings for a particular entry, I was able to expand a topic search to include a much larger field; this was especially valuable for expanding Alexeev's ethnographic information. HOLLIS also allowed me to separate language from ethnicity.
The first compilation raised many questions and it was William Fitzhugh at the Smithsonian Institution who recommended that I collaborate with the noted Russian ethnologist Sergei Arutiunov, a visiting scholar at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks and a friend and colleague of the late Alexeev.
Thus for the academic year 1995-1996, Sergei and I have communicated via electronic mail (e-mail), he in Fairbanks and I in DC:
"Sergei, the temperatures are frigid in DC!"
"Geraldine, I do not know what you call 'freezing' in DC. There is a limerick by Rudyard Kipling: There was a young man in Quebec, Who fell in snow up to his neck. When asked 'are you freeze', He answered 'I is', But we don't call it cold in Quebec."
And regarding race:
Dear Geraldine, about race. First of all, never confuse race and language. Preferably different words should be employed for ethnicity and language on one hand and for "race" on the other. Haitians are black (though some are only light brown) and speak a kind of French which is Indo European. Jews are white (though some are nearly black, like the Falasha) and speak a number of languages some of which are Semitic like Hebrew, others are Indo-European like Yiddish, and some are in other groups. Race or a racial type is a convenient categorization pigeon hole but contrary to language is a construction. Rarely do you find an individual who would represent any "race" in a clear and pure form. There is always only some approximation. But nevertheless we can speak of prevailing racial or physical features in every population. Alexeev used to single out only three Great Races: Europoid or in the more obsolete terminology "white", Mongoloid or "yellow" (in fact ranging from very white in the northern Siberian Evens to dark brown in some Indonesian populations) and Equatorial where he would lump Black Africans, Negritos of Andamans and other Southeast Asian islands i.e. Papuans, Australians etc. Great races, considering the differences in teeth and other genetic markers, are subdivided into local races. So Europoids are subdivided into xanthochroic (blond, nordic) and melanochroic (brunettes, southern Europoids from Spain and Morocco to Bangladesh). These can be further subdivided into second order local races, e.g. melanochroic are subdivided into Mediterranean (Spain, N.Africa, S.Italy, Greece), Near Eastern (Turkey, most Asian Arabs, many Jewish populations though not all, Caucasians), Indo-Pamiric (most of Iran and Afghanistan, south of Central Asia, north of India) and these are subdivided further into smaller local types and subtypes. However, among Georgians and Circassians, you find mostly Near Eastern types, but in some localities, especially in the west of their territories, the subtypes of the Mediterranean race prevail. You find several types and much intermediary shades among Italians, etc. Most Sudanese are mixed Europoid-Africanoid, most Kazakhs are mixed Mongoloid-Europoid, and so on. Any other questions? Please write.
Dear Sergei, I wish to eradicate "race" in the same fashion that I needed to erase "Soviet Union" in the Alexeev lectures and relabel the physical geography of Eurasia. Our world has changed so quickly. The first battalion of the US Special Forces arrived yesterday in Sarajevo and saw the glow of Yule lights strung in the middle of a war zone. US troops, along with other NATO peacekeeping forces, will patrol the borders to keep the foes from killing each other. It's the correct thing to do. Rabin fought for West Bank and Gaza et al. territory only to return it to the Palestinians in the name of peace. It was the correct thing to do. Peres will continue Rabin's mission. When an Uzbek moves or is moved to Tajikistan, is he still an Uzbek or does he become a Tajik? You say that most Kazakhs are a mix of Mongoloid-Europoid; in Kazakhstan 37.8% of the population is Russian, 2% Uzbek, 5.8% German, 5.4% Ukrainian, 39.7% Kazakh, and 9.3% other. My daughter attends graduate school in Canada and is in an East Asian Study Program. Last weekend one of her professors hosted a Sunday party at 11:00 AM (Dim Sum hour). Her Asian friends brought "Chinese food" and she baked an apple pie. Everyone exchanged "secret santa" gifts. Holiday cheers.
Dear Geraldine, first, you hardly can do without mentioning a race. Well, the word race is probably not politically correct (though I hate the very notion of political correctness - it is so hypocritical and demagogical), because "race" is rather apter applied to genetically discrete populations of domestic dogs or other animals who are prevented from interbreeding which is not the case with humans. But a difference between Mongoloids, Europoids and Africanoids, apart from mixed and intermediate forms, is an evident fact and one cannot disregard it. You can call them great or main or basic physical types or any other euphemism but it is all the same. So, if for simplicity's sake I am allowed to continue to use the term "race", then there are great races, or races of the first order, three as above, or four, if we consider Australoids different from Africanoids (Alexeev did not but I do)". Americans should abandon as utterly incorrect politically and scientifically a usage of Caucasian as designating the "white" or Europoid race. Caucasians are either native inhabitants of the Caucasus area (including Armenians, Azeris, Ossetians and other Turkic and Indo European speakers), or linguistically, the people who speak Caucasian languages (then the above must be excluded and the term would cover only Georgians or Kartwelic, Abkhazo-Adyghean and Nakh-Daghestanic). Racially or physically the term Caucasionic should be used. Best wishes for the season's holidays. And a happy new year to you!
Dear Sergei, why does anyone need to use the word race! Even the Canadian census poll uses the term "ethnic identity". "Race" is a biological term and lends itself best to creating thoroughbreds or supermen. The word "race" is very POLITICALLY correct. Adolph Hitler capitalized on it in his creation of the Aryan superpower and his demoralization of Jewish populations (as well as Gypsies, homosexuals, Austrians, Poles, etc.). Stalin likened the Slavs to a race and likewise "did in" the Jewish populations. Whether one is or is not politically correct is presently irrelevant; what is of the utmost importance is being humanistically, historically, and ethically correct. The hubbub at the Smithsonian last season over the Enola Gay exhibit was the result of the politically correct gaining an upper hand and demanding revisionist history. The historical display being reduced to a single airplane was the correct thing to do.
Our world has changed overnight. We are a great territory without a leader and, thank goodness, none have yet emerged. Because this political situation is very delicate, the major powers are in agreement that peace must be negotiated at all costs. Rabin believed this, so does Peres, Arafat, Major, Chirac, Kohl, Mubarick, Yeltsin, Clinton and hopefully many more. Thus to embrace a particular race be it Aryan, Europoid, Jewish, Slavic etc. is humanistically, historically, and ethically wrong headed. As an anthropologist (or archaeologist or ethnologist) it is my task to follow the direction of the present world leaders and advocate peace. It is the correct thing to do. Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah (and many menorahs) and a Happy New Year to you.
Dear Geraldine, your angry letter was very politically correct, in the better sense of the word but not scholarly objective. Race and identity are definitely not the same. Identity is based on culture; race is based on biology. If you do not like the word, you may use another term like "basic physical type". Identities are defined by people themselves. Physical types are defined by observers and you can splinter or lump them at your convenience. It is a procedure of arbitrary character. It is like species and genera: species are (speaking of Lynneons) a given reality. Genera are created by biologists and may be argued about. However, you cannot work without the notion of genera and you cannot work without mentioning the physical type. Alexeev wrote a book "Geografia Chelovecheskikh Ras" (Geography of the Human Races) in which he speaks about "Ochagi Rasoobrazovania", literally hearthplaces of the formation of local races. This does not make him a racist. Well, a happy Hanukkah and a merry Christmas to you, too. I go to Utah tomorrow to visit my friend.
Dear Sergei, my sincere apologies if my last letter was of an angry tone. I guess the hectic pace of the holiday season is taking its toll (right now I'm busy baking cranberry bread). Objective scholasticism is indeed a topic that warrants comment. Where is that fine line between scientific objectivism and humanism. At Hiroshima, Sacksenhausen, Chechnya? If and when we lose sight of human rights and the delicacy of human relationships, we devolve to a state of barbarism.
What actually is a race? You live in Moscow therefore you're not Europoid. Because I live in the US, am I Americanoid which is likened to Mongoloid; but don't these terms reference indigenous populations of American Indians. Actually my ancestors were from Lithuania and Poland, so in fact, I'm Balto-Slavic or just plain Slavic. Are you Slavic too? Alexeev's book was written some time ago; at a time when the concept "heartland" was in vogue. But I truly believe that when Alexeev presented his lectures at Harvard, his racial concepts were in a state of change. He and I spent at least an hour discussing the ethnic makeup of Dynastic Egypt and Alexeev kept cajoling me into admitting that a "racial line" was drawn between Egypt and Nubia. I guess he thought ALL Americans have a problem with the assimilation of Black or African American into the white culture. I still view ancient Egypt as homogenized as a Benneton poster. When you say Stalin was always stressing that identity and race were different things, did Stalin use race or identity to justify his butchering hundreds of thousands of "others"? And what does Yeltsin call those insurgents in Chechnya? Have fun in Utah. I'm off to spend Christmas in Williamsburg.
Hello, Geraldine! The moon and sun joke was good. Now, Americanoid is just having the racial features specific for ALL American Indians before Columbus. Americanoid, ethnic American (Yankee), native American (Indian), inhabitant of America, born in America, citizen of America are all quite different things. A race is created artificially, as well as genera, but it is a useful thing to create. Genus Felis (cats) - retractable claws, short muzzle, good night vision etc. Lions, panthers, lynxes, tigers are all cats. Similarly Americanoids: hair straight black, skin yellowish to brown, cheekbones high, epicanthic fold weak or absent, lips medium, blood group exclusively O, teeth orthognate, incisors shovel formed. I have a friend here. He claims he is Athabascan, behaves like an Indian (hunts, shares meat with old people), makes excellent Indian jewelry, and owns some of his clan. Well, he is grey eyed, rather blond, low cheek bones, and looks like a typical Anglo. Who is he? Ethnically he is American Indian. Racially he's surely Europoid. I am tall, sharp facial profile, hair slightly wavy, black hair (now grey), body hair highly developed, skin fair, eyes, brown, nose long and protruding. I am a very typical Near Eastern type of the southern European (melanochroic) subrace of Europoids but my identity is Armenian, citizenship Russian, place of birth and native tongue Georgian, ancestors Armenian, Georgian, Russian, Ukrainian, Hungarian, Italian, German, and probably Jewish too. Have a good cranberry cake.
Dear Sergei, where can you find a "pure" Europoid? Isn't this what the White Supremacist groups such as the Aryan Nation or Neo Nazis search for? What about the KKK or Farrakhan's Nation of Islam who single out groups to hate. What about Zhiranovsky striking out at anything for the purpose of promoting a strong nationalism. Or for that matter, what of the DAR (daughters of the American Revolution) who must show 100% Yankee blood or the Daughters of the Confederacy who cannot show Yankee, Jewish, or Black blood. Who is Africanoid? The Masai do not resemble the Nigerians. As a former teacher who taught in the ghetto schools in Richmond, California during an era when Huey Newton and the Black Panthers instilled the fear of violence when they paraded through the school corridors, I was forced to face the issue of race on a daily basis. My students were no longer called colored; they were called Black. Today they would be called African American but this is also confusing because Afrikaaners are also African American and a Haitian isn't an African. I guess Africanoid is an abstract concept similar to Plato's chairs existing in a nether world.
How can one determine race in the archaeological record? Cranial Index measurement is about as reliable as Broca's brain. What about the mummies from Xingjiang. To me they look like me; Alexeev would call them Europoid. Would a Chinese archaeologist think they looked like her? You claim that Americanoid is just having the racial features specific for ALL American Indians before Columbus. But this is not correct. Indians of the Pacific northwest surely differed from those in Florida. Thus for every "lumper" statement you make, I can respond with a "splitter" statement. And vice versa. Race is invoked when one wishes to show exclusivity. Do you really think your Athabascan friend is Athabascan? He likely has a good academic position and qualifies for grants directed to those with minority status. Do you know that when I lived in California, some of my Californian friends were either second or third generation Californian. Today most of them have children who have claimed minority status as "American Indian" to gain acceptance into top rank colleges and law schools. You say that race is created artificially, as well as genera, but it is a useful thing to create. Why? When I was a teenager I maintained two collections: a stamp collection and an insect collection. My stamp collection was very frustrating because countries kept changing names thus destroying the alphabetical listings I had compiled. My insect collection, on the other hand, was perfect. Everything lined up! And if I had difficulty in deciding whether a specimen had two wings or four, I would simply cut two wings in half to create four. I think race is simply a pejorative term utilized by those who have an agenda. So you're a mosaic of identities too. By the way, what is body hair highly developed? Are you furry? Happy New Year.
Dear Geraldine, I just sat at my computer to send you an e-mail and discovered that there is a note from you. Thank you so much for a wonderful Christmas wreath that you have sent to me! It arrived exactly on the day of the Orthodox Christmas! As you probably know, we in the eastern churches continue to celebrate it by Julian calendar, so what in western Europe is on December 24, with us in the east in on January 6. The wreath hangs in my room and smells lovely.
Dear Geraldine, the terms may be coined at will and are not a problem. If you don't like "race", use "population group", or "Genotype Cluster" or whatever. In any case, it is an artificial construct (same as genera) which we define to make a classification and comparison of various populations possible. In our research on India, we made a circle, divided it into three sectors, "white", "black" and "yellow", and then, by purely mathematical calculation, placed all the groups that we studied, in a place within this circle. "Pure blacks" would be on the periphery of the circle in the middle of the arch delimiting the "black" sector. Needless to say, no group was in such a position, since in reality there are no pure races. But there were some groups which were almost exactly in the center of the circle, i.e. groups which had features of black, yellow and white almost in equal proportions".
Dear Sergei. Question: when Boris Yeltsin ordered the killing of people in Chechnya and now in Dagistan, did he shoot his "brothers" or "the others".
Dear Geraldine, well, officially of course, all these people are considered citizens of the Russian federation, thus compatriots, but those shot at are declared criminals and bandits. The government says, yes, innocent civilians suffer, but this is because the bandits use them as a cover, so the bandits are to blame. The general opinion and the feeling of the public is, however, that though federal troops do not hesitate to shell quarters inhabited by ethnic Russians, still they feel more at ease when there are ethnic Caucasians. And the actions of federals were more aggressive in Pervomaiskoe than in Budionnovsk because the hostages in Budionnovsk were Russian and in Pervomaiskoe they were mostly Daghestanis. This is my impression too.
Dear Sergei. To change a word from "race" to "genotype cluster" does not eliminate its meaning. Yes, race is an artificial construct but for what reasons do people or groups need to classify or compare people? Is it to deprive them of their property? Your research on India sounds quite peculiar. How can you take people, draw circles around them, and then color them in with white, black, or yellow? Also, mathematical calculation doesn't make something scientific. I'm pleased that you found no pure races, but to find groups in the center of the circle with the same proportions of black, yellow, and white sounds very contrived. On second thought, such a structured approach possibly might be applicable to fruit flies but surely not to people. You are correct that any scheme is an oversimplification of reality but "that a denial of racial differences is unscientific" is purely a way of invoking science to cover up bigotry and racism! I am pleased that you have a problem with craniological study; so do I. You get an "A" on Californians being a wide range of mixtures; actually I see them as having blond hair, bronze skin, well developed pectorals, a big smile, and the ability to say only 4 words: "have a nice day". Oh - your percentages for "the California Race": 45% white, 35% yellow, and 20% black - what color are Mexican Americans and California Indians? How can the old communists still be around when there are so many American "jeans" in Russia. In final assessment, I found your e-mail quite racist. Alexeev always said: "You can think it but not say it". His is good advice. My sons are in Bosnia because the Serbs hate the Muslims. Boris Yeltsin hates the Muslims. My Russian tutor named Lubof says she hates the Muslims because they sit on the floor and eat under a blanket. Do you hate the Muslims too? If you do, then you are not a good anthropologist. If you do not, then you must join me in viewing race as a mosaic of features arranged in such a way as to produce a unique and wonderful human being, furry or not. Take care, Geraldine.
Dear Geraldine, Thank you for your letter. Reading it was really a fun. Well, to answer point by point: I do not mind being called a racist, even when I think that I'm really not. In fact, I am often thinking of ordering a T-shirt with an inscription: "I'm a racist son-of-a bitch and proudly a great big male chauvinist pig". It would be better than to pretend to tolerate all this Politically Correct hypocrisy. And I always say what I think. Happily, in Russia you do not end up in prison anymore for what you are saying (unlike America). No, I do not hate Muslims. However I cannot help it when so many Muslims hate me. To say the truth, some are my friends, and even best friends, but not many. Most old communists are wearing American jeans now, though generally not very fitting because most of them are fat. Democrats like jeans, too, but not all can afford them. Racial type of Mexicans and Indians: from what I have seen, Indians would fit into 75% Mongoloid, 20% Europoid, and less than 5% Africanoid. Mexicans probably 55% to 45% Mongoloid, up to 45% Europoid, and less than 10% Africanoid. This is a visual impression. Many untouchables seemed "white" to us in India. Surprisingly, after calculations, ALL untouchable happened to fit into the "black" section, and ALL Brahmins into the "white" one. Yes, Alexeev was fond of calculating genetic differences and I would be fond too, unfortunately, I do not know enough of mathematics to do it alone. Everything that can be calculated must be attempted to be calculated. The reason is most often the sheer curiosity, same as with classification of people into races or of animals into genera. The latter is not done exclusively to strip the poor critters of their skins - this objective can be achieved by simpler methods. I hope I can meet you sometime when I am in Washington, DC. I am going to be there between June 10 and July 10. Write more! To read your letters is refreshing!
Dear Sergei, I am deeply saddened to learn that you take pride in being called a racist and chauvinist. In my country, these labels do not portray a good man. Alexeev was a good man. He never lectured about drawing circles around people and coloring in with black, white, or yellow; the ancient ethnic groups he spoke about were labelled Europoid. He even jokingly drew on the blackboard a caricature of a face without a prominent nose (Mongoloid) and stood in profile beside it. Alexeev also prided himself in never being a member of the Communist Party.
Alexeev was the first Soviet I had ever met. I grew up being taught that Soviets were barbarians and the USSR a horrible place to live. For most of my lifetime the cold war defined friend and foe; these foes lived behind the iron curtain. Thus my first meeting with Alexeev at 102 Quincy House was very significant. To this meeting I brought two books; Gladkov's "Cement" and one by Tolstoy. Alexeev angrily shook his head wondering why Americans would read Gladkov; of Tolstoy he said: "he is a genius". However, Alexeev did add that he had not read "Anna Karenina"; his wife had. He then asked me a question: "Your constitution states that all men are equal. Do you believe this?" I immediately replied: "Of course not!" So began the summer of 1991.
Sergei, why do you see the Muslims as your foe? Granted, some of the extremist terrorist groups are "bandits"; these criminals must be dealt with in the most severe way. But for the most part, Muslims are a gentle, friendly, and god worshipping people. In my travels through Morocco and Egypt I felt a gentle calm floating through the air. Memory of this serenity remains with me today. Granted that thoughts of an alliance between Gadhafi and Farrakhan makes me nervous and Bosnia's link with Iran could involve major problems for the peacekeepers, but what are the choices? The only alternative to peace is no peace. Boris Yeltsin has become a barbarian in his treatment of human beings in Chechnya and Dagistan. By appointing Kadannikov, the used car salesman, to replace Chubais, the reformer, Yeltsin signals that he is courting the old communists. Sure hope the International Monetary Fund withholds its $9 billion loan! If Yeltsin thinks he can return to the past and redraw the iron curtain, he's wrong.
The world is now a different place; even the company my husband works for can photograph tanks behind the Kremlin wall. I actually sent Anatoly Derevyanko in Novosibirsk a photo of the Berteck Basin in the Altai. The picture was so crisp and clear his students could count the kurgans!
"Politically correct" was a concept discussed with Alexeev in 1991 when Denish DeSousa's "Illiberal Education" was released. As I see it, p.c. is a means to serve special interest groups and as such has managed to curtail freedom of speech on major US college campuses. However, not to be politically correct does not give anyone license to treat another human being without dignity and in a pejorative fashion. It seems that the key world players recognize this; Yeltsin and the old commies do not. Sergei Kovalev, chairman of Yeltzin's human rights commission has resigned and portions of his resignation letter have been reprinted in the "Washington Post" - and the world has changed.
Alexeev presented himself as a gentleman; as a scholar who was both scientist and humanist. If as a Soviet in the USSR he displayed himself as a "pure scientist" and drew circles around human populations and colored them in black, white, and yellow, then that was then when everyone was Marxist and followed the "party line". This is not what he presented in his lectures at Harvard in 1991. Classifying animals into genera is OK because they don't know what you are doing; they have no human intelligence. When you do this to people, you can insult certain groups thereby inflicting hurt and pain. That race is determined by skin color is a very old theory; presently passe. Passe also are B.F. Skinner, Freud, general systems theory, Binford, and most of the "new archaeologists". You say Alexeev was fond of calculating genetic differences. He did present demographics for ancient populations but NEVER in his lectures at Harvard did he divide races by skin color.
I don't know if I wish to meet you when you are in Washington, DC because I am afraid you will insult me, hurt my feelings, and cause me much misery. You must be proud that with your newly found freedom of speech, you can say what you think. Zhiranovsky says what he thinks. "Zhiranovsky hot to Trotsky" reads the headline in a US tabloid. Zhiranovsky is scum! I would never wish to meet him. I liked Alexeev because he was a gentle man who knew: "one can think it but not say it". Sergei, I continue to appreciate the time you have spent making detailed corrections to the manuscript. I think you should capitalize on your tee shirt, make hundreds of copies, and sell them to your fellow barbarians. Without warm wishes,
Dear Geraldine, How could you think I was seriously stating myself a racist and a chauvinist? Certainly I am not. And I certainly hate most profoundly any real, even the slightest manifestation of racism, chauvinism, xenophobia, sexism, and whatever other attempt to single out on any basis any distinct group of people as inferior or superior to any other group. I only wanted to express, in a form of joke, my negative attitude to all attempts to exaggerate the issue, to pin a label of racism or chauvinism onto things which are in fact, a pure, honest, clean, non committed science. And certainly I do not hate Muslims.
Do you know,that recently I have been elected a honorary member of the Council of Elders of the Chechenian nation in exile, in a sign of gratitude to the speech I made (it was broadly published in the Russian progressive press) in the Russian constitutional court in June 1995, defending the Chechenian freedom fighters against really barbaric and inhuman war efforts of Yeltsin and his bloody generals? And I always publically object to all attempts to diabolicize Islam in general. It has a lot of humanism in it, as most other religions. But I really hate fundamentalists of any creed. But human beings are physically different, and where there is a difference, there is a field of study. And any study must be free of any "politically correct" interference, otherwise we plunge back into the abyss of medieval obscurantism. Hope to hear more from you. Yours sincerely,
Hooray Sergei! I look forward to meeting you this summer in DC. With respect,
Dear Geraldine. Again, never confuse languages and races. If, from many possible racial classifications, we accept the most suitable for an archaeologist, triple classification into Europoids, Mongoloids, and Equatorials (aka Negro-Australoids or Africanoids and Australoids together) or conventionally, and only conventionally, "white", "yellow" and "black", this triple thing is convenient for many reasons including that we do not know blood groups and other genetic data for excavated skeletons. We do not know skin color either, but orbits, nose, prognathism, cheek-bones etc. we do know, and it is enough. Then for India: there are all elements present - Europoid, Equatorial and a little Mongoloid. Very rarely are they more or less "pure", but mostly they are a mixture. There is an Indo-Mediterranean subrace, more or less purely Europoid. There is a Dravidoid subrace, a mixture of Europoid + Equatorial, but more Europoid. There is a Veddoid subrace, same mixture, but rather more Equatorial. There are Himalayan Mongoloids, and there are all possible mixtures of all these types. And there are languages. Indo-Aryan languages are today spoken by purely "white" and obviously "black" populations, but mostly by a mixture of the two. Dravidian languages are spoken by some pure Europoids, like Nambudiri-Brahmins, and by some very "black" tribes, but mostly by Dravidoids. Mudaric languages are spoken by Veddoid and mixed Veddoid Europoid populations. Himalaic languages (Sino-Tibetan family) are spoken mostly by Mongoloids. However, some Mongoloids speak Indo-Aryan languages, and some rather Europoid groups (like Balti in Kashmir) speak Sino-Tibetan. And remember, Alexeev and I have seen, studied, and measured all these groups, so we know all this not from books but from a first hand experience. And all this is still an oversimplification, and to describe the correlations between linguistic and racial groups in India, a thick volume would be not enough. And so on most questions you are asking. So I can give in every case only very simplified answers. Later I shall write again.
Dear Sergei, I am caught in a lumper/splitter argument with you. You like races because you can see biological differences and you can thus divide races into a triple classification. With due respect, I must tell you that this method is archaic. Allow me to relate to you another Alexeev story:
In one of our later meetings after we had gotten to know each other, Alexeev appeared a bit remote and unfocused. I inquired about his health and he replied: "Do you know Ernst Mayr?" I replied that I certainly did and that Mayr was one of Harvard's most famous scientists and biologists. Alexeev continued: "I met with him today. I am sad to say that I will never become a "geni" like Newton because my country has chosen to support other areas of study and not biology. And it's too late to catch up".
Back to the biological. Simple observation of groups is no longer scientific since genetics, gene splitting, forensics, etc. have become the academic rage. A huge portion of US research funds are earmarked for the biological sciences i.e. genetic research. The chairman of Harvard's biology department commented that he couldn't understand why Harvard anthropology is funded to do biological research when he is no longer able to update his laboratories. With mitochondrial DNA research we are able to trace hereditary factors through the female line. This research became problematic because the scope was limited to the mitochondria and the genetic tracing was only among women. Y chromosomal DNA supposedly gives us the other side of the picture, however, at present I know very little about this.
Have you seen Cavalli-Sforza's book entitled "History and Geography of Human Genes"? I have just ordered a copy from Princeton University Press and was outraged by the price of $150. I asked what happens if I don't like the text and I was told to return it for a full credit! That is what I think I shall do. Now if we can isolate a deadly virus (fungi such as cryptococcus neoformans or coccidioides immitis are currently in vogue) and then link disease with "race", we can scientifically control populations or better still eliminate inferior populations. This is very scary. More about this after I receive the text.
Question: in Russian, what is the definition for the term "excavation"? The ownership of an archaeological site has become a very dicey question especially as pertains to Staroselie. That Formosov excavated and published a site report on Staroselie is not an issue. What is at issue is that Formosov was upstaged by Chubai with the backing of American dollars from Anthony Marks via NSF. For Marks, by his own admission, to have excavated over 100 archaeological sites in 30 years is a feat for a super man; that's over 3 sites a year! I am presently researching Marks's site report publications but in my initial researches, I find a paucity of information. Also at issue is what is meant by "working a site". Because Formosov physically has not been on the site of Staroselie for over 30 years necessarily does not mean he no longer is conducting research. Research is only partially conducted in the field; Formosov has published more than 18 texts since 1958 all of which likely reference his previous archaeological researches. A recent text entitled "Antologiia sovetskoi arkheologii" likely references Staroselie. Formosov appears to be a solid scholar; Marks is playing the role of dilettante. As well, Marks disparagingly references Neandertal presence at Staroselie while Alexeev states that Homo sapiens had been found and the "Great Soviet Encyclopedia" states that the site belongs to the Mousterian culture and the remains of the child show many sapiens traits that distinguish it from Neandertal; "the child is representative of Homo sapiens or a form between Neandertal and Homo sapiens". Alexeev also states that three absolute dates place Homo sapiens with Mousterian tools at a date ca 52-60,000 BC. In my preliminary assessment, Marks didn't do his homework; he was too busy jetting from site to site rather than conducting a scholarly history for the site based on library research before beginning an expensive excavation. If he had bothered to contact Formosov, he would have received current information, possibly even C-14 dates. What Marks so sloppily has done is an infringement on archaeological scholarship and he should receive the severest form of reprimand by both his American academy and the Russian, Ukraine, and Crimean academies. Philip Kohl's call for an international organization such as UNESCO or the World Archaeological Congress to adjudicate such problems is an idea that should be given solid consideration by all archaeologists doing international work. The world has abruptly changed since 1989 and international archaeological projects need an internation regulatory agency to arbitrate disputes that could arise such as that presented by Chubai and Marks against Formosov.
Question: when you and Alexeev studied all of your groups, not from books, but from first hand experience, did you use a color wheel? Happy Valentine's Day, Geraldine
Dear Geraldine, As concerns the triple classification, it is arbitrary and depends on one's tasks and methods. It is possible to single out two, four or five main races, to consider three, four or more taxonomical levels etc. The triple approach is just more convenient - as a stool is most stable with three legs. Mitochondrial DNA is a very promising thing but it cannot substitute for all other approaches either. As concerns racial differences in immunity to certain diseases, they really exist but you never know with all these blood groups and abnormal hemoglobins etc. where is an advantage and where a disadvantage. And nobody in one's sane mind today may speak about extermination of "genetically deficient" populations.
"Ownership" of a site is a difficult problem. Dikov had no legal right to excavate in Uelen, the cemetery being discovered by Sergeev, but he did it. Did we use a color wheel when working in India? Nearly so, in fact we used the Luschan's scale which consists of 32 opaque color glasses ranging from pure white (happens only on Albinos) to pure black. It is not very precise but generally sufficient. Very sincerely yours.
While Sergei and I were in communication via e-mail, he was making careful additions to the text and answering questions I had raised. The first editing was completed on December 1, 1995 and sent to me via the postal service. Sergei's comments were added to the text as was most of the information in the footnotes. The revised manuscript was sent to Fairbanks in January 1996 and while Sergei was making a second addition to the text, I spent my time consulting the "Great Soviet Encyclopedia" and made appropriate additions to the manuscript and grappled with how to present the ethnographic information from Alexeev, Aruitunov, and HOLLIS is a systematic fashion. Presently the conclusion and introduction near completion and Arutiunov is due to arrive in DC in the beginning of June for a final editing. This volume is presented, not as a definitive study of the anthropology and ethnology of Eurasia, but rather as an introductory text, a working text, including specific bibliographic references for more in depth study of particular areas. Spellings of authors and place names are according to Library of Congress specifications, except for one - Alexeev. Library of Congress spells the name Alekseev, however, on his business card he chose Alexeev, and for this volume, Alexeev it shall be.
Professor Valery Alexeev was not only one of Russia's greatest scientists - he was so much more. Alexeev was a distinguished physical anthropologist, historian, archaeologist, sociologist, explorer, and humanist. In fact Alexeev was one the world's greatest 20th century scholars.