Don's Diary

January 22, 1999

Monday The snow clouds have cleared. This morning, I can spot the distant Caucasus mountains to the south. Sergej collects me in the office Lada and we are off across town to Nasledie (Heritage), the monument protection and rescue excavation unit for the Stavropol region. Joyous news: the internet link is up. Senya, a postgrad, is already surfing.

Interest rises as he discovers Reading University's home page: a trial email confirms that there will be no more excuses about my being incommunicado - this is new Russia.

The dean of Stavropol State University's history faculty telephones: could I give my guest lecture on Wednesday? I have been here for six weeks, but the lecture has to be fixed at two days' notice! That is old Russia! Tuesday Today it is work in the regional museum cataloguing finds from our excavations, and a chat with the museum director on the politics of archaeology in the North Caucasus - Chechnya is a mere 0 miles away to the east.

Wednesday At the university for my lecture, I am informed of a change in audience: it is not the MA students, but the first-year course. Here we go again! What will first-year history students make of "Recent theoretical trends in British historical archaeology"? During the lecture, I spot a swastika scrawled on the table. A sign of the times? At the end, the dean invites questions. A deluge: "What do you think of the weather?" "Are you married?" "Do you like the girls here?" "Would you like to live here?'' I am flabbergasted. Yes, I love the weather (disbelief). No, I am not married (interest). Yes, I like the girls (applause from females). Yes, I would like to live here, but not for ever (satisfaction at my honesty). Later, students ask for my autograph as the first westerner to lecture in the faculty.

Thursday Hooray - a complete day's work in the museum. For lunch, I nip across to Nasledie. Senya nabs me: I have to fill in a form for the lecture fee. This involves inventing lots of lecture slots because the dean insists on paying me the $100 monthly salary.

Friday At 2pm it is the public defence of Marina's "candidate" (junior doctorate) thesis; she is a junior lecturer at the university. The first hour is criticism, the second praise. The third stage of the ritual is a liquid "banquet" in the faculty cafeteria. God, I love this country, but it is killing my liver! Weekend Work at "home", a one-bed flat in a ten-storey block of flats on the outskirts of Stavropol. I take my camera across the road to "Santa Barbara", a new suburb of family homes - another hallmark of new Russia.

Seen through the eyes of an archaeologist, there have been dramatic changes since 1991 - in architecture, material culture, dress, food - most imported or copied from the West. Will future archaeologists conclude that the Communist period ended with large-scale immigration of Americans, West Europeans and Turks into Russia? Heinrich Harke Reader in archaeology at Reading University. He spent a British Academy-Leverhulme senior research fellowship year in Russia.

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