Collection of Relics of Culture of the Peoples of Central Asia

Tatiana Yemelianenko

Central Asia, at that time only recently joined to the Russian Empire, remained poorly explored by, and little known to, Europeans. It had been practically barred to travellers because of its remoteness and religious isolation, which caused the natives' hostility against strangers.

"So great is the Central Asians' suspicion that a thorough first-hand investigation of their countries is next to impossible. Each European is being closely observed; every mundane question tends to be misinterpreted so that the answer is evaded," an ethnographer wrote in the late 1860s (see: M. Galkin. Ethnographical and Historical Materials on Central Asia and the Orenburg Territory, St Petersburg, 1868. p. 199).

However, some information on local customs and traditions was accumulated over the last few decades of the 19th century, when Central Asia had already become part of Russia; yet it was mostly descriptive and quite superficial. At the same time, the realm of artifacts, which was shaped by ver­nacular culture and reflected its distinctive quality, remained almost entirely unknown.

Therefore, the Ethnographic Department's expeditions to Central Asia, as well as the acquisition policy adopted early on, were conducive to the Russians' growing awareness of that territory.