International Association of Specialists on Russian America

 What is IASRA? Introduction and History

IASRA (formerly JSARGRA) is a consortium that resulted from a fortuitous collaboration between scholars in Irkutsk and the U.S. In 2004, following an introduction by Lydia Black, archaeologists Dave McMahan (Alaska State Archaeologist) and Ty Dilliplane (former Alaska State Historic Preservation Officer) accepted an invitation from the late Alexander Artemiev (Russian Academy of Sciences) and Vladimir Tikhonov (Director, Taltsi Museum of Architecture and Ethnography) to assist with ongoing excavations and research related to the Baranov-Laxman Glass Factory. The glass factory, whose archaeological ruins are on the grounds of the Talci Museum, was constructed by Alexander Baranov and chemist Erik Laxman in 1784 in part to manufacture beads and other glass trade items for Siberia and Russian America (Bychkov 1997:42-49). One of the research activities involves comparing the chemistry of glass from the factory, which used a unique formula, to that of glass specimens from Russian colonial settlments in America.


The 2004 Irkutsk visit proved to be much broader in scope than glass factory research. Through the efforts of Vladimir Tikhonov, tours and meetings were arranged at many of the museums and archaeological facilities in the Irkutsk area. A visit was undertaken to the restored childhood home of John Evseyevich Popov-Veniaminov (Saint Innocent of Alaska). This small museum, located around 300km from Irkutsk in the small village of Anga, is managed jointly by the Russian Orthodox Church and the Taltsi (Talci) Museum. The team also visited the Shishkino petroglyph site, some 360km from Irkutsk on the Lena River, and the site of the 17th centuryVerkholinsky Ostrog. The tour also included time at Lake Baikal. Through these visits, cultural doors were swung open as directors and management staff of each of the visited facilities enthusiastically expressed interest in sharing information with American colleagues. The 2004 visit culminated in a roundtable discussion attended by key representatives from Irkutsk museums, government agencies, and academic institutions. The participants discussed opportunities for historic preservation and cooperative research on Russian America. The discussion, which was covered by the media, resulted in the formation of the Joint Siberian-Alaskan Research Group on Russian America (JSARGRA) and the compilation of an initial set of goals. These were assessed and modified in 2005. In 2006, by resolution and vote at the Third International Conference on Russian America, the JSARGRA name was changed to "International Association of Specialists on Russian America" (IASRA) to to encompass the broadening scope of the growing consortium. (2004 Photos)

In 2005, McMahan and Dilliplane returned to Irkutsk at the invitation of Vladimir Tikhonov and Alexander Artemiev. The Americans assisted Artemiev with ongoing excavations at the Baranov-Laxman glass factory. Supplementary work included an 8-hour cruise along the northern shore of Lake Baikal, then a 5km trek inland, to the site of an ore extraction facility associated with the glass factory (after 1820). Samples of the siliceous sand were collected for analysis. In an unrelated project, the team conducted test excavations at the circa 1674 site of the Tunkinsky Ostrog on the Irkut River, Buryatia. This also presented an opportunity to examine historic collections in the village of Tunkah and in a small regional Buryat museum. The team hopes to continue work at this important site under the direction of Artur Kharinskiy. In addition to further travels around Lake Baikal, time at the Talci Museum, and trips to other museums in the Irkutsk area, McMahan and Dilliplane returned to the Shelikhov Museum. An important element of the 2005 trip was the presentation of a replica of the only known possession plate (discovered at the site of Old Sitka during the 1930s) to Nalalia Volkova, Director of the museum. One of only a few replica's cast from the original, it is being loaned to the Shelikhov Museum for display by Sitka National Historical Park. Sue Thorsen (NPS) was instrumental in setting up the loan. As in 2004, the 2005 visit culminated in a roundtable discussion of JSARGRA and further refinement of goals. (2005 Photos)

The National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded a grant to the Alaska Historical Society in support of activities by Russian scholars in Alaska and California. , which involved community organizations, tribes, and Russian Orthodox Church representatives was highly successful. Details and photos of 2006 JSARGRA activities

A group of archaeologists led by Artur Kharinsky (Dean and Professor, Irkutsk State Technical University), with participation by Dilliplane and McMahan, conducted excavations outside the standing Russian-American Company headquarters building (c. 1800-1867) in Irkutsk. A 2m x 2m excavation unit revealed a stratigraphic continuum of historic deposits spanning at least 200 years, including a broad zone which could be related to the time period in which the RAC occupied the site. The archaeological work, which was supported in part by the National Science Foundation, was conducted in conjunction with the Third International Conference on Russian America. / (2007 Photos)

In 2008, work continued at the RAC headquarters building under Artur Kharinsky with the excavations of an additional 2m x 2m unit. This time, Kharinsky, McMahan, and Dilliplane were assisted by a group of Kharinsky's archaeology students from Irkutsk State Technical University. The team successfully added detail to the stratigraphic interpretations from the 2007 work, and recovered a large number of artifacts (particularly ceramics and glass) characteristic of the period in which the RAC occupied the site. Following the excavation, McMahan, Dilliplane, and Kharinsky traveled by train to Mongolia. Accompanied by
Erdenebat Ulambayar, Dean of Social Sciences at Ulaan-Batorsky Sate University, the team visited several museums in Ulaan Baatar before journeying around 200km west of the city to examine archaeological sites and visit ongoing excavations by Russian, Mongolian, and Japanese crews. On the return to Irkutsk, the team was picked up at the Mongolian border by Vladimir Tikhonov and transported by car to Kiakhta. There, after visiting the museum, a meeting was arranged with Kiakhta Mayor Valery Tsyrempilov to discuss the possibility of future work in the region. The team was invited to return in 2009 to conduct minor excavations at the site of the abandoned 1842 customs compound ("tea exchange"). (2008 Photos)

With support from the National Science Foundation (ARC-0939789), Russian and U.S. collaborators (Tikhonov, Kharinsky, Dilliplane, McMahan), along with scholars and leaders in the Republic of Buryatia, collaborated to organize a successful conference in Kiakhta during August 2009. In conjunction with the conference, a team lead by Artur Kharinsky excavated a 2m x 2m unit inside the walls of the abandoned 1842 "tea exchange." While little of interest was found there due to modern disturbance inside the compound, the team did locate intact historic features and deposits along the river. This area may prove productive if future work is conducted. Following the conference and work in the Kiakhta Museum archives, the excavation team (Kharinsky, McMahan, Dilliplane, Shemelin [driver]) joined Kiakhta Museum Director Elena Tuguldurova to visit the Minister of Culture of the Republic of Buryatia in Ulan Ude. By invitation of the Minister of Culture, the team was given guided tours of the History Museum and Ethnographic Museum of the Republic of Buryatia. After returning to Irkutsk, Dilliplane and McMahan accompanied Valdimir Tikhonov to his family Dacha, a traditional 18th century log structure on Olkhon Island. This was a time of relaxation, although observations of local museum collections and sites proved insightful for understanding analogs in Russian America. (2009 Photos)

In August 2010, IASRA joined Sitka National Historical Park, the Sitka Historical Society, and other organizations to organize the 2010 International Conference on Russian America in Sitka, Alaska. During the well-attended three-day conference, papers were presented by some of the leading scholars on Russian America. Attendees represented the U.S., Russia, Sweden, Finland, and Canada, as well as several Alaskan tribes. The conference presented a wide range of topics that generally focused on the lifeways of the people of Russian America. The organizors additionally offered workshops on dollmaking and archival preservation. In partnership with Sitka National Historical Park and the U.S. National Park Service, IASRA organized an archaeological testing project that focused on three colonial Russian sites in and around Sitka. The project, conducted under National Science Foundation award (ARC-0939789), as amended in 2010, presented an opportunity for visitation and exchange by conference attendees. The results of the project were presented at the conference. Participating archaeologists included Dave McMahan (Alaska Office of History and Archaeology), Ty Dilliplane (Massachusetts Maritime Academy), Artur Kharinsky (Irkutsk State Technical University), Vladimir Tikhonov (Taltsi Museum of Architecture and Ethnography), Sue Thorsen (Sitka National Historical Park), Jay Kinsman (Tongass National Forest), and Julia Farmer (volunteer high school student from Fort Ross, California).


 Introduction & Summary of Activities: 2004-2009

  Irkutsk / History

  IASRA Goals


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