Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Book cover: "Archaeology in the U.S.S.R."

  • Cover title: Archaeology in the U.S.S.R.
  • Inside title: Archaeology in the USSR
  • Does that discrepancy make me itchy? Yes
  • Author: Aleksandr L'vovich Mongait (1915 - 1974)
  • Translator: M.W. Thompson
  • Cover design: Juliet Renny
  • Publication year: 1961
  • Publisher: Pelican Books, a non-fiction imprint of Penguin Books.
  • Original publication: 1955, in the Soviet Union
  • 1961 cover price: $1.45 (the equivalent of $12 today)
  • My price: $2, at Mullen Books in Columbia, Pa.
  • Pages: 320
  • Format: Paperback
  • Back-cover blurb: "The Soviet Union is a country of many different languages and peoples. So a book dealing with its archaeology must range from Stone Age Russia to the Greek colonies on the Black Sea — from the Slavs of what is now European Russia to the desert forts of Central Asia, held by Arab, Turkic, and other rulers. This book is also fascinating for two other reasons. In the first place Soviet archaeology is almost unknown in the West, and the reader will discover that Russian achievements here fully match those in better known fields such as space travel. Secondly Dr Mongait is a Communist, and this will be a chance for many people to see the Marxist interpretation of history applied to archaeology. There are nearly 91 illustrations in the book."
  • So that means there are 90 illustrations? Yes. Or perhaps 89.
  • First sentence (skipping two prefaces, a foreword, an acknowledgement and a note): "Archaeology belongs to that group of sciences which was born only recently and has developed quickly."
  • Last sentence (not including the conclusion): "A systematic survey of the towns and hill-forts must be made and an archaeological map of the ancient Russian towns drawn up."
  • Random excerpt from the middle #1: "The barrows at Noin-Ula are the remains of a Hunnish aristocracy. They are fairly well dated to about the beginning of our era, for in one of the barrows a small Chinese lacquered tea-cup was found bearing an inscription attributed to the second century B.C."
  • Random excerpt from the middle #2: "The descendants of the people of Uellen were more advanced. They lived in small rectangular earth-houses with a paved stone floor and long walls. The hunting of sea animals was carried on in the open sea in skilfully constructed skin boats."
  • Amazon insight: Here's an interesting excerpt from what Paul Lawrence wrote on in August 2011:
    "First off let me point out that this book is quite old. Late 50s or thereabouts. It was part of a rather large series of books with blue covers that were aimed at the general layman and as such readability and conciseness were greatly valued by the publishers. Many of them are still to be found in 2nd hand bookstores and the like and are often well worth picking up as even though they are quite dated their style and succinct nature makes them valuable as an entry point for the non expert. Which, of course, is where I would be coming into the story. ...

    "The work covers a broad range of history — it really is aimed at being a primer — but what is perhaps also interesting for those wanting to delve deeper into this subject is the brief rundown of Russian archaeology in general given in the early part of the book. A whole range of names I was unfamiliar with are thrown at the reader and certainly the keen student should be able to track down information on these historians should they choose to do so. All up this was an interesting addition to the series of history books of which it was a part and as long as you approached it with an eye to its age and its intentions then I'm sure you will get some value out of it."
  • Two translations: There were dueling translations of Mongait's original Russian-language work, which was published in 1955. In addition to this 1961 Pelican paperback, Archaeology in the U.S.S.R., as translated by David Skvirsky, was published in 1959 by the Foreign Languages Publishing House of Moscow. Reviewing both books for American Anthropologist in 1962, Temple University's Henry N. Michael wrote: "Of the two translations, Thompson's is by far the easier one to read and digest. This is due largely to the skill of the translator, but also to the omission of the stilted and oft repeated sentences or passages of ideological character..."

The book includes 24 pages of illustrations, including this image of barrows in Poltava.

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