At the beginning of the 1840s, Matthias Alexander Castrèn (1813-1852), Master of Philosophy from the Imperial Alexander University in Finland, upon the recommendation of Andreas Johan Sjögren received an offer of the Imperial Academy of Sciences to participate in ethnographic and linguistic research in Siberia. He was invited to participate in an expedition to Northern Siberia in the rank of linguist and ethnographer. Because of the disease M.A. Castrèn was able to go to Siberia only in 1845, being already a doctor of philosophy. This trip lasted more than four years.
M.A. Castrèn’s expedition was a continuation of the 18th-century complex expeditions, most of which was organized and conducted by the Academy of Sciences. The purpose of these expeditions was a comprehensive study of the nature, economy, life of the population of the country. They played an important role in the development of ethnographic science in Russia. The Second Kamchatka Expedition (also called the Great Northern Expedition) was the most significant for the study of Siberia. Its main task was to discover the sea route to America and reveal America’s links with Asia.
The main Castrèn’s research interest was linguistic. He intended to determine which of the indigenous peoples of Siberia are in historical relationship with the Finns. To collect language materials M.A. Castrèn visited the Ostyaks (Khanty), Voguls (Mansi), Selkups, Kets, Evenks, Khakas, Tuvinians, Kamasinites, Buryats. He traveled almost all over Siberia, excepting the Far East. As a result Castrèn compiled grammars and dictionaries for 13 indigenous languages of the region.
M.A. Castrèn recorded the observations on the life and culture of these peoples, collected ethnographic objects.
These items, although not numerous, occupy an important place in the Siberian collections of the Peter’s the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography (Kunstkamera) of the Russian Academy of Sciences. They characterize the culture of the indigenous population of the first third of the 19th century. They can be attributed to the number of the earliest receipts in the Museum’s Siberian holdings, since a significant part of the 18th-century collections, gathered mainly by the Academic expeditions, was lost due to various reasons: the fire of 1747, the inapproptriate storage conditions.Read more