Archaeological and ethnological fieldworks in Setomaa in 1937 and 1938

On October 4 an international conference, dedicated to the results of archaeological and ethnological field works organized by the Museum of Man (Paris) in Setomaa, south-eastern Estonia in 1937 and 1938, took place in Värska (Setomaa). The fieldworks were initiated by the famous Russian emigrant writer, Leonid Zurov, and accompanied by Boris Vilde, the organizer of the Resistance movement in France during World War II. During these expeditions ca. 260 archaeological monuments were recorded and information about them, as well as numerous archaeological finds were delivered to the University of Tartu. The output of the fieldworks is also seen in 442 photos and 379 ethnological artefacts that reached the collections of the Museum of Man.  The most important documents of the fieldwork materials are two reports written by Zurov: a general survey (78 pages) and a report about the cult of stones, trees and springs in Setomaa (50 pages). These materials have not been available for the Estonian, Russian and Seto communities until recently.

The archaeological information collected by Zurov is extremely valuable source material and has been repeatedly used for finding archaeological monuments to present them to be protected by the state – both in the Estonian and Russian part of Setomaa.

During the conference, 15 papers concerning the results of the fieldworks of the 1930s were presented by Estonian, Russian and French speakers. The conference, greatly supported by the project “Archaeology, Authority and Community” took place in the framework of an international project launched by the National Natural History Museum (France) and established in cooperation with the University of Tartu, the Russian Museum of Ethnography and the Seto Institute. The aim of the project is to publish materials of the expedition. Three identical books of ca. 500 pages in Estonian, Russian and French are expected to be published in 2015. The books will contain, in addition to the published source materials, commenting articles from present-day researchers. The aim of the Värska conference was to prepare articles that will later be printed in the project output volume. On October 5th, meeting of the authors and editors took place:  practical and organizational questions concerning the publication were discussed.

The meeting was organised in Setomaa – the area of Zurov’s and Vilde’s fieldworks – with the aim to popularise archaeology among the Seto community and give feedback of the field works of 1937 and 1938. The conference, held in Värska Culture Centre, was attended by 54 participants from Tartu, St Petersburg and the Seto community, including the representatives of the community authorities and the museums of Setomaa. The conference was organised jointly by the University of Tartu and the Seto Institute. The aim of the forthcoming book is to popularise archaeology and to spread the field work results of 1937 and 1938 among the public, including the Estonain and Seto communities.

Heiki Valk

Archaeology Cabinet of the University of Tartu