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The Maikop Treasure
July 2009 (113.3)
The Maikop Treasure
By Aleksandr Mikhailovich Leskov. Pp. x + 294, numerous b&w and color figs., tables 4. University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Philadelphia 2008. $75. ISBN 978-1-934536-04-9 (cloth).
In his new book, Leskov, a prominent specialist in the archaeology of the Eurasian steppe, appears in an entirely new capacity. He is best known as a field archaeologist, whose numerous discoveries enriched museum collections in the Ukraine and Russia. Contrary to this, his new book is the result of an investigation undertaken in the vaults of museums, in inventory books, and in archives. This time Leskov deals with the so-called Maikop Treasure, a collection of artifacts with no archaeological provenance acquired by three German and two American museums during the first decades of the past century, and he dives into the detective work of tracing the possible origin of all these early archaeological materials from the Eurasian steppe. Central to his investigation is the forgotten figure of M.A. Merle de Massoneau, a wealthy French businessman employed as the director of the Czar’s vineyards in the Crimea and Caucasus. Merle de Massoneau built and sold, partially through a third party, a huge collection of south Russian antiquities. The history of this sale and the further destiny of these artifacts, both in the museums and in scholarly publications, are traced in the introduction.
The largest portion and most obviously “usable” section of the book is the 210-page catalogue, which covers objects now held in four museums: the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Philadelphia (133 entries); the Antikenabteilung of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (92 entries); the Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte in Berlin (87 entries); and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (2 entries). The catalogue does not cover the artifacts in the Römisch-Germanisches Museum in Cologne, most of which belong to the Migration period. The reasons for the latter omission are twofold: (1) the most important of these objects were published by von Damm (“Goldschmiedearbeiten der Volkewanderingszeit aus dem Nordlichen Schwarzmeergebiet,” Kölner Jahrbuch für Vor- und Frühgeschichte 21  65–210); and (2) the majority belongs to the period remaining beyond the scope of Leskov’s personal research interest in earlier epochs. The catalogue is very extensive; while the number of entries is 316, the actual number of objects catalogued is close to 2,000—Leskov preferred not to follow the tradition of giving separate entries to identical objects.
The time span of the catalogue is impressive; the dates of included objects range from the Bronze Age to the 14th century C.E. The material is also diverse, from basic utilitarian objects to jewelry and richly decorated luxury items. Leskov is at a great advantage here; as a man who has been active in the field of steppe archaeology since the 1950s, he has the extensive knowledge of scholarly literature and archaeological collections in the former Soviet Union (the geography of his professional life included Kharkov-Kiev-Leningrad-Moscow, while his fieldwork started in the Crimea, continued in southern Ukraine, and terminated after a nine-year field project in Adygeia in the northern Caucasus).
Although Leskov only modestly notes that his publication may help specialists in Russia, Ukraine, and Georgia “as a starting point for a thoughtful analysis of this extraordinary collection,”(9). There is no doubt that the systematic introduction of such a significant bulk of archaeological materials will have an important impact on this field of study.
Yet the book goes beyond the descriptive mode. In the “Historical Overview of the Maikop Collection,” the author analyzes the objects of the collection in the context of Bronze Age monuments (227–30), Pre-Scythian (230–31) and Scythian and Sarmatian (231–58) cultures, as well as the cultures of the Middle Ages (259–61). Furthermore, Leskov persuasively argues that the main bulk of Scythian artifacts in the Merle de Massoneau Collection came from two rich archaeological complexes: one, datable to the fifth century B.C.E., came from the Maikop region in the northern Caucasus, while another, belonging to the fourth century B.C.E., was from the Ukrainian part of the steppes to the north of the Black Sea. Finally, in a short section that can be best described as an appendix, Leskov discusses the sources of certain types of anthropomorphic images (so rare in Scythian art) using the materials of the Maikop Treasure (261–67).
Altogether, The Maikop Treasure can be seen as a major contribution to the study of the cultures in the western section of the steppe belt. Moreover, with its hundreds of full-color illustrations, maps, extensive bibliography, and index, the book will be valuable for a wide group of scholars and readers who are interested in the history and art of jewelry making, and even for jewelers looking for inspiration from the Maikop Treasure.
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Book Review of The Maikop Treasure, by Aleksandr Mikhailovich Leskov
Reviewed by Elena Neva and Aleksandr Naymark
American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 113, No. 3 (July 2009)
Published online at www.ajaonline.org/book-review/628