The State Hermitage Museum is one of the leading archaeological centres in St. Petersburg as well as in Russia as a whole. Its history dates back to the first half of the nineteenth century, when Russian emperors supported the excavation of Scythian burials in their southern lands. In 1850, interest in such excavations led to the formation of the Imperial Archaeological Commission, which reported directly to the Ministry of the Imperial Court. This Commission made a huge contribution to the organisation and development of archaeology across Russia. After the 1917 Revolution, the Archaeological Commission became a separate institution but the Hermitage continued to support and conduct archaeological expeditions.
Today, archaeological research is one of the museum’s key areas of activity and the geographical reach of the excavations it runs or participates in is vast. Twenty Hermitage expeditions conduct excavations in the south, northwest and central regions of Russia, in Siberia and the Altai, Crimea, in Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Italy. They work on sites dating from the Neolithic Age, Antiquity and the medieval period. The museum also conducts archaeological research of its own territory. Expedition strategy is determined by the museum’s Archaeological Commission, headed by its Director. Every year results are presented and discussed at the museum’s Archaeological Session.
Excavations have traditionally played an important role in curatorial research. The Hermitage regularly publishes monographs and collected papers on archaeological subjects, as well as reports of archaeological expedition. These reports have appeared in Archaeological Papers for many years. Permanent and temporary exhibitions are often based on archaeological research.
Many of the artefacts that have made the Hermitage famous have been found during archaeological excavations. Today, however, discoveries usually remain with museums in the location where they were found, which makes it even more important for Hermitage experts to study them and to take part in joint research and conservation projects.