ISAW Library acquires the collection of Aleksandr Leskov

By Gabriel McKee

This summer the ISAW Library acquired the library of Aleksandr Leskov, an accomplished archaeologist and one of the world’s leading authorities on the ancient Eurasian Steppe. Over the course of his career, Professor Leskov excavated more than 400 burial mounds, most dating to the Bronze and early Iron Ages in Crimea, the southern Ukrainian steppe, and the Northern Caucasus. He completed his doctorate in 1961 with a thesis on the Taurians, ancient inhabitants of southern Crimea, and went on to work at the Institute of Archaeology of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences in Kiev. In the mid-1960s he secured government funding for a large archaeological project in Kherson Province, just north of Crimea, excavating numerous burial sites of the Scythians, the nomadic inhabitants of the western Eurasian Steppe in the first millennium BCE. Leskov's excavations of Maeotian sanctuaries in the Northern Caucasus and Scythian burial mounds throughout the northern Black Sea Region have yielded countless precious objects: Aleksandr Naymark, a professor of Central Asian and early Islamic archaeology and art history at Hofstra University, remarks that "Leskov is undoubtedly responsible for more discoveries of ancient gold than any living Scythian archaeologist."

In the 1980s Prof. Leskov became the director of the archaeological division of the Moscow Museum of Oriental Art, and he relocated to the United States in the 1990s, establishing a residence at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania. Leskov has been prolific author throughout his career, writing or editing over 20 volumes. His most recent works are Меоты Закубанья IV-III вв. до н.э. (Maeotians of the Trans-Kuban region in the 4th-3rd centuries BC) (Large Collection DK651.U43 M46 2013) and The Ulskii Tumuli: Cultic and Burial Ensemble of the Scythian Period in the Northern Caucasus (Large Collection DK511.A28 U5713 2015), an English translation of his 2010 book Ульские курганы.

The Leskov Collection, containing over 1,200 volumes, is a valuable addition to the ISAW Library. A significant portion of the collection consists of Russian-language excavation reports, many of which were issued in small editions in the Soviet period and are sparsely held in American libraries. The Leskov Collection complements many other materials at ISAW, in particular Nina Garsoïan's collection on Armenia and the southern Caucasus. Processing and cataloging of the Leskov Collection has already begun, and will continue in the weeks and months to come. Materials from the collection will be listed in the ISAW Library's monthly lists of new titles. For more information, see the ISAW Library Blog. 

In a 2004 essay, Naymark wrote that, after emigrating to the United States in the middle of 1990s, Leskov's mission was "to increase the awareness of the ancient cultures of the Eastern Europe in the American academic community by showing the pivotal role of the steppes in the formation and development of Eurasian civilizations." The addition of Leskov's library to the ISAW Library's holdings will do much to further this mission, making of a wealth of historical and archaeological material on this important region available to scholars from around the world.