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Archaeology of Latvia during the Soviet regime — The harsh reality of the “golden era” of archaeology (1940–1941, 1944–1990)

Keywords: Latvian archaeology, Soviet regime, history of science
Language: In Latvian

During the years of Soviet occupation (1940–1941, 1944–1990), the archaeology of Latvia experienced dramatic changes. The most part of archaeologists who had worked during the period of the Republic of Latvia were repressed. The researcher of hillforts Ernests Brastiņš was arrested already in 1940 and shot in 1942. Rauls Šnore and Ādolfs Karnups were convicted after the Second World War, and Pēteris Stepiņš was sent to the filtration camp. Part of the archaeologists went to emigration: Francis Balodis, Valdemārs Ģinters, Eduards Šturms, and Hugo Riekstiņš. The remaining ones had to accept the Soviet ideological framework in the interpretation of the archaeological material. Archaeologist Andrejs Vasks divides the Soviet period of the archaeology of Latvia into two parts — from 1945 to 1959 and from 1960 to 1990. The Soviet ideology was most imposed in the first half of the Soviet period (1945–1959). The second period is characterised by extensive excavations in the flooding zones of Daugava power plants (Pļaviņas, Riga, and the planned Daugava HPS). During that time, the archaeologists of Latvia gained considerable achievements, and the ideological pressure eased. Yet the archaeologists having experienced repressions encountered restrictions and actually did not return to archaeology. Archaeologists had to face censorship. Studies in Eastern Latvia were facilitated, contacts with the Russians were justified, while studies in Western Latvia, which had been linked with Scandinavia during several stages of history, were significantly smaller. There was a great focus on the research in ethnogenesis and physical anthropology (Raisa Denisova, Rita Grāvere). Between 1960 and 1990, archaeologists gradually distanced themselves from Marxist dogmas. This contradicted the official attitude of the time to history, which was determined by the Institute of History of the Latvian SSR Academy of Sciences, whose leadership maintained the Marxist treatment of history until the beginning of Awakening.

After the restoration of independence, archaeologists had no problems of involving in the European scientific circulation.

The article is based on a report delivered at the meeting of the Division of Humanities and Social Sciences of the Latvian Academy of Sciences, on 25 April 2019.

The report and the article were prepared using the personal archives of archaeologist Jānis Graudonis, which are stored in the collections of Turaida Museum Reserve. The scientific literature of the period considered, the author’s personal experience, and memories of contemporaries have been used.