Paleoethnology Research Center — research and educational non-profit organization that grew out of the project «Bible and ancient history». The project was initiated in 2012 as part of the Foundation of St. Basil the Great (the founder of the Foundation is Konstantin Malofeev, Chairman of the Board of Trustees, benefactor and public figure). 
Paleoethnology Research Center Paleoethnology

In 2013, the project transformed into Paleoetnology Research Center; in 2015 it passed the state registration as an autonomous non-profit organization and acquired a legal status. Maxim Kryuchkov, specialist in Classical philology, was Director in 2015-2018; in 2018 Denis Pezhemsky, anthropologist and archaeologist, was appointed as Director.

Paleoethnology Research Center is an institution with a wide range of goals and objectives. All the activities of the Center develop in two major spheres: first, the academic research in ethnogenesis of different peoples, and secondly, the popularization of scientific knowledge and the creation on its base of various media products from electronic textbooks to popular science and feature films.

Paleoetnology is a scientific direction that had been developing in Russia up to 1930s and represented the first experience of the synthesis of different fields of knowledge about ancient peoples and cultures (archeology, anthropology, ethnography, linguistics). Originating in the second half of the XIXth century in the depths of the French archeology and anthropology, innovative paleoethnology approach was quickly accepted by many European scientific schools in view of the fact that it allowed to see the specific human groups behind the changing of the archaeological cultures and technologies. A distinctive feature of the representatives of this scientific field was attention to the theory and methods of the natural sciences, much of which was borrowed. Stalinist repression put an end to this line of the science development, since it came into irreconcilable contradiction with the Marxist-Leninist ideas of primitive society. 

Paleoethnology Research Center is called upon to return to this topic and to restore the interrupted logic of development of the science of ancient peoples. The base of its concepts and theoretical development is the data synthesis of the above-mentioned sciences as well as of genetics, ethnology and paleogeography data. The Center’s daily work is guided by the idea of uniting the specialists from various fields of humanities and natural sciences into the community of scientists engaged in the study of the problems of ancient and modern peoples ethnogenesis.

An important instrument of such an unification is an organization of several lines of scientific conferences, one of which — Indo-European studies: multidisciplinary approach — already has its audience and regular participants. It is supposed to expand cooperation with scientific and educational institutions. The creation of new scientific library serves the same purpose, most of its book collection is exclusive for the Russian library space. All these efforts — it’a an attempt to develop a modern language of interdisciplinary synthesis, to establish a dialogue of various sciences.

Indian Anthropological Expedition 2018

The current stage of Russian physical anthropology development as a part of the wider human science, primarily biological, is characterized by several features, which, despite the objective and subjective difficulties, can be traced more and more distinctly. Firstly, it is the interdisciplinary openness, search for new ways to interact with other sciences, in which the connection with genetics and psychology is the most prominent. Secondly, it is the reconsideration of the term “race”, creating new approaches to its studies, among them – gathering new materials on different populations. There are not many foreign expeditions (recently Russian anthropologists have been, for instance, to Chili, Indonesia, Mongolia), however, the tendency to carry them out, as well as expeditions inside our country, is likely to strengthen. This report is about one of the events in this tendency of resurrecting complex anthropological expeditions.

The Indian Anthropological Expedition (the head of research – Dr. Denis Pezhemsky) was organized on the initiative of the Paleoethnology Research Center with its funding and established jointly with Timiryazev State Biology Museum in 2018. The goals of the new expedition are the following:

  1. to mend the international scientific relations almost lost in the 1990s;

  2. to gather data on the specifics of Hindu funeral ritual, primarily on the aspects important for physical anthropology and connected to the forensic expertise of cremated remains;

  3. to assess the possibility of physical anthropology research in modern India and, if possible, to gather new population material.

The renewal of the relations with Indian professionals had several stages, as did the expedition itself. Fortunately, we met with our colleagues from the Anthropology Department of Delhi University (Dr. Anup Kapoor, Dr. Satvani Kapoor), the Anthropology Department of Pune Univeristy in Maharashtra (Dr. Shaunaka Kulkarni, Dr. Subhash Walimbe), the Anthropology Department of Kolkata University (Dr. Arup R. Bandyopadhyay). With the latter it was possible to conduct a field trip to the Santals of West Bengal immediately and to gather physical anthropology data near Bolpur town (Fig. 1).


Fig. 1. The geographical position of the places in which the Indian Anthropological expedition worked in 2018

The first stage of the expedition, conducted in Agra (Uttar-Pradesh state), was studying the process of cremating a human body within the rituals of the Hindu funeral tradition. The observation was carried out on an ancient ghat on river Jamuna bank 500 m to the west from Taj Mahal. The research was being conducted continuously during the daylight hours. All stages of the rituals performed were fixated in a special form as well as the weather conditions. Photo and video recordings were made, samples of the wood which the deceased were burnt on were gathered. In total, we managed to document about 50 cremations in detail and to describe about 50 more based on bonfire sites as cremations are carried out at the Jamuna Ghat almost incessantly twenty four hours a day. During the fixation of a cremation process we focused our attention on such aspects as the time needed for a corpse to burn down, the amount of calcined bones left, the changes in the bone bone tissue, etc. These materials are being processed and prepared for a separate publication at the moment.

At the second stage of the expedition a complex anthropological examination of the Santals of West Bengal organized by Dr. Arup R. Bandyopadhyay was conducted. The expedition set out from Kolkata to Bolpur which is near Shantiniketan. In the past Shantiniketan had been an estate of a famous Indian poet and educator Rabindranat Tagor (1861–1941). There he had founded Vishva Bharati University, which is now known throughout the world. In several kilometers from Shanteniketan there is a small Santal village Pearson Pally, where the Indian Anthropological Expedition members carried out their examination in a rural primary school.

 The Santals belong to the Munda group which constitutes a branch of the Austroasiatic language family. Santal groups reside in India – in Bihar, West Bengal, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh and Assam as well as in such countries as Bangladesh, Nepal and Butan. The Santals speak Santali language, which has two dialects – mali and karmali. According to the census of 2011, there are over 7 million people in India who named Santali as their native language. Among them about 2.5 million live in West Bengal (Census of India, 2011; Linguistic Survey of India, 2016). By now, Santali language has been studied thoroughly. The researchers have composed several grammar books and dictionaries. Moreover, Santali has its own alphabet based on the Latin script and the Devanagari. According to our own field observations, many of the Santals of West Bengal also speak Bengali.

The Santals do not have caste distinction. Their traditional beliefs are still preserved and they comprise a complex synthesis of a higher deity worship, ancient solar cults, ancestors and mother goddesses worship, popular zoomorphic conceptions and worship of the demon spirits common to all Munda. Santal mythological tradition is rather rich, and Hindu motives can also be traced. It is worth mentioning that in the most ancient Santal folklore layers, connected to the Creation, whales and lobsters, impossible to be known to the residents of the areas far from a shore, act. This fact has led several researchers to an assumption about a past connection between the Santals and a sea, especially in light of the Santal ethnogenesis remaining a serious scientific issue. The Santals also have an abundant ritual culture, which is often accompanied by music and dancing. However, recently researchers have indicated a decline in the interest of young Santals in their traditional culture and Hindu customs’ assimilation (Hembrom, 2003).

Santal houses are usually of the pillar-based type. The main materials are bamboo, clay and cane. Santal clothes is rather similar to the one of the other residents of India. Women wear sarees, traditionally - white (often with a colored border) or checked ones. However, in the course of the fieldwork we observed sarees of most different colors. Also, women insert flowers in their traditional hairdo. Men wear dhotis or waistclothes, though nowadays “European” clothes, such as T-shirts, shirts, shorts or jeans, prevail.

It is important to mention that unlike many other Indian ethnic groups the Santals have extremely few nutritional prohibitions. For instance, they they eat meat of different animals freely. However, until recently a prohibiton of drinking bovine milk existed. The majority of Santal dishes contain rice in different forms. Regarding the drinks, two kinds of beer are widespread. One is made of rice and another one – of mahua flowers.

Traditionally, the Santals are farmers. At present, tillage farming prevails. The main cereal crop is rice. Several researchers are of the opinion that it was Munda people who had brought the rice cultivation technology to India. Except for rice, the Santals cultivate millet, mustard and several kinds of beans. In addition, the Santals are engaged in animal husbandry. They breed swines, goats, sheep, cows and buffaloes. It is interesting that the Santals continue to practice hunting. They hunt with dogs and use bows and arrows of different forms as weapons. The custom of a collective hunt in which all the residents of nearby villages participate is also still maintained. Gathering plays an important role in Santal economy too. Aside from traditional activities, more and more modern Santals do seasonal and industrial work. Santal men also work in big cities as rickshaws, at farms, at Assam tea planatations, they do brick-kiln labour. Women often do seasonal work in forests, on roads and dams (Gupta, 2007).

In colonial times as a result of British reforms the most of Santal community land was concentrated in possession of major landowners (mostly zamindars – immigrants from other areas of India) who would lease it to peasants through manjhis (the headmen). If a Santal did not pay the rent, he would find himself in debt serfdom. As a consequence, there were uprisings against the creditors and landowners-zamindars (e.g. the famous “Santal revolution” of 1850s). Later, the Santals started to migrate to the east to Bengal and to the north to Nepal looking for work in order to repay the debts. The vast majority of the Santals examined (or their ancestors) came to Pearson Pally from Bihar about 40-60 years ago.

All these circumstances must be taken into consideration while processing the gathered data. Overall, 240 individuals were examined, among them there were 214 individuals who identified themselves as Santals (Table 1). The majority of the examined were children or teenagers (52 boys and 61 girls). Adult Santals comprised a small and not genderly equal selection of 32 men and 59 women over 20 years old. The remaining 25 people are of different ethnic groups, mostly Bengali (10 men and 15 women).

The examination was conducted using as many methods as was possible under the given conditions with a mandatory social questionnaire (T.E. Kliuchnikova; Fig. 2) The questioning was carried out in several languages – English, Bengali and Santali. The rural school’s teachers, Vishva Bharati University (Shantiniketan) and Anthropology Department of Kolkata University helped us greatly with it.

Detailed measurements of head and face were taken (32 men and 59 women over 20 years old – E.A. Vagner-Sapukhina) and morphological elements of the face were described according to the “racial” program (83 male individuals and 119 female; - A.H. Gilmitdinova; Fig. 3).

Anthropological photographs of head and face were taken in three projections (88 male individuals and 121 female – Yu.A. Alekseev; Fig. 4).

Body measurements of the adults were taken in accordance to the full somathometric program (30 men and 59 women – A.H. Gilmitdinova) and of the children – in accordance with a short program (A.H. Gilmitdinova, E.A. Vagner-Sapukhina; Fig. 5).

Dermathoglyphic palmar prints were taken as well (88 male individuals and 119 females – D.V. Pezhemsky; Fig. 6). Dental system was examined, dental casts were gathered using the method conventional in the Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology RAS (70 male individuals and 86 females – N.A. Leybova; Fig. 7).

In addition, biological material (buccal swabs) was gathered in order to study DNA-polymorphism (49 male individuals and 45 females; N.A. Leybova). It was frozen upon our arrival to the Anthropology Department of Kolkata University and temporarily left in India.


Fig. 2. The work in progress – T.E. Kliuchnikova is conducting the social questioning with the help of a teacher


Fig. 3. The work in progress – A.H. Gilmitdinova is working on head and face morphological description


Fig. 4. The work in progress – Yu.A. Alekseev is taking photographs of the head and face


Fig. 5 The work in progress – E.A. Vagner-Sapukhina is gathering data on children’s body length


Fig. 6. The work in progress – D.V. Pezhemsky is gathering palmar prints


Fig. 7. The work in progress – N.A. Leybova in the process of a dental examination

table 1.jpg

Table 1. Gender and age structure of the anthropological selection examined in Pearson Pally village in 2018; Bolpur – Shantiniketan, West Bengal, India

We would like do draw your attention to the fact that while the Indian Anthropological Expedition of 2018 can not compete with the Soviet-Indian Anthropological Expedition of 1971–1983 in complexity of the methods used, the new materials contain data on the female part of the population, which the materials gathered earlier in India by Soviet and Russian specialists lack.

The first result of our work which we would like to share in this publication is the composite portraits of male and female Santals which show their morphological specifics (Fig. 8, 9). They are the result of processing the anthropological photographs taken in the field by Yu. A. Alekseev. The photographs were taken using the conventional method with the elaborations suggested by A. M. Maurer – in the three main projections (en face, three quarters and side view) with a millimeter scale allowing to adjust to scale and take measurements from a photograph. The composite portraits were made by A. H. Gilmitdinva with the help of a special software faceONface (developed by A. B. Savinetsky and G. V. Syroejkin).

The female composite portraits are based on 64 separate photographs en face, in three quarters and side view (Fig. 8). The age range of the individual portraits – 18-75 years old, the average age being 37 years.

The male composite portraits are based on 37 separate photographs from all three views (Fig. 9). The age range at the individual level – 18-70 years old, the average age being 27 years.


Fig. 8. The composite portrait of a Santal female from Pearson Pally (n = 64; by A.H. Gilmitdinova) 


Fig. 9. The composite portrait of a Santal male from Pearson Pally (n = 37; by A.H. Gilmitdinova)

The division into 12 kins (11 according to another sources) is still preserved in Santal community, among them – Soren, Murmu, Baski, Marandi, Hembram, Tudu, Hansda, Kisku, Chonre, Mardi and Besra, that we encountered during the fieldwork. According to some of the questioned Santals, Mardi and Marandi are the same kin, but this issue will need elaboration. All Santals consider themselves a member of one of the kins, however, the social role of a kin nowadays is not so big, it plays a part mainly during the life cycle.

In every Santal village there is a headman (manjhi) and a priest (naik) with several aides. Together with the most respected older men of the village they form panchayat. Panchayats resolve such issues as people breaking marital or other prohibitions. Santals are an endogamous community. If someone violates the endogamy, i.e. marries a non-Santal, the panchyat may sentence them to bitlakh – a corporal punishment. Cases of such beatings can be found in police reports even of the 1970s. According to our Indian colleagues, if a Santal violates this marital prohibition today, he or she will be banished and stop being a Santal. However, during the fieldwork of 2018, we came across cases of endogamy violations when the violators continued to live in a Santal village and the non-Santal spouse was accepted in the corresponding Santal kin. This circumstance will require very careful processing of the questionnaires’ data before we can go on to generate morphometric and morphological characteristics of the examined Santal group.


The comprehensive consultations with famous Russian specialists were very important for setting the goals and the tasks for the Indian Anthropological Expedition of 2018. The authors are deeply grateful for particularly valuable advice and recommendations to indologist V.E. Larionov; anthropologists Dr. G.L. Heet and Dr. N.A. Dubova; ethnologist, corresponding member of the RAS, Dr. S.A. Arutyunov (a participant of the Soviet-Indian Expedition of 1971–1983).

The fieldwork in West Bengal would be impossible without the help and support of young anthropologists of Kolkata University Parikshit Chakraborti and Swapan Sarder who did the most of the organizational work. Students from Vishva Bharati University Soumen Mardi and Namrata Santra provided invaluable help with the questioning. The members of the Indian Anthropological Expedition and the headship of the Paleoethnology Research Center express their most heartfelt gratitude.


Александра Кастро Степанова
Alexandra Castro Stepanova
Alexandra Castro Stepanova
Алексей Крол
Alexey Krol
Alexey Krol

Graduated from the Museology Department of the Russian State University for the Humanities in 1995. Theme of the qualifying work: "Ancient Egyptian Heb Sed Festival".
Attended postgraduate course in the The Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
Theme of the PhD dissertation: "Military and Political Aspects of the Ancient Egyptian Holiday Heb Sed Festival" (1999).

In 1995-1998 worked as junior researcher in the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts.
In 1998-2015 – as researcher in the the Center for Egyptological Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences (in 2005-2011 - deputy director).
From 2015 works as senior researcher in the Research Institute and the Museum of Anthropology of the Moscow State University and in the Paleoethnology Research Center.

Specialist in ancient and medieval history and archeology of Egypt, Islamic art and culture.

Participated in Russian and international archeological expeditions in Egypt:
1998-2006 – joint Russian-German expedition in Luxor (Theban Tomb 320, the so-called "Royal mummies cache");
2000-2002 – joint Russian-Dutch expedition in Tell Ibrahim Awad (Eastern Delta);
2001-2002 – German expedition in Qantir (Eastern Delta, Pi-Ramesses);
2002-2007 – archaeological expedition of The Center for Egyptological Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Memphis;
2003-2005 – underwater archaeological expedition of The Center for Egyptological Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Alexandria;
2003-2014 – archaeological expedition of The Center for Egyptological Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences in the Deir al-Banat (Fayum).

Member of the Russian Geographical Society and of the European Association of Archaeologists.

Алина Гильмитдинова
Alina Gilmitdinova
Alina Gilmitdinova
Андрей Григорьев
Andrey Grigoriev
Andrey Grigoriev
Андрей Коньков
Andrey Kon'kov
Andrey Kon'kov
Андрей Черкасов
Andrey Cherkasov
Andrey Cherkasov
Дарья Фомичева
Daria Fomicheva
Daria Fomicheva
Денис Пежемский
Denis Pezhemsky
Denis Pezhemsky

In 1992-1994 was a student of the History department of the Irkutsk State University.
In 1998 graduated from the Archaeology Department of the Faculty of History of the Moscow State University and the Anthropology Department of the Faculty of Biology of the Moscow State University.
In 1998-2002 attended postgraduate course on Physical Anthropology (scientific director – M. M. Gerasimova) and postgraduate course at the Archeology Department of the Moscow State University (scientific director – V. L. Yanin). PhD in biology (2011). Theme of the PhD dissertation: "Variability of tubular bones of the human body and the possibility of its reconstruction" (scientific director – M. M. Gerasimova).

In 1994-1998 worked at the Physical Anthropology Department of the N. N. Miklukho-Maklai Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
Since 1998 worked at Research Institute and Museum of Anthropology of the Moscow State University, since 2001 – as senior researcher, since 2002 is curator of Craniology and Human osteology collections.
Director of the non-profit organization “Novgorod Scientific and Educational Center HERITAGE” (since 2008), deputy director of the non-profit organization “Scientific and Educational Paleoethnology Research Center" (since 2015).

Member of the European Anthropological Association (since 2002), of the Moscow Society of Naturalists (from 2005), and of the Russian Geographical Society (since 2011).

Author of more than 100 publications on physical anthropology and archeology.

Research interests: morphology of the skull and postcranial human skeleton, anatomical variability of the skeletal system, paleoanthropology, origin of the races of ancient populations of the different regions of Northern Eurasia, theory and methods of Paleoanthropological research, facial reconstruction on the cranial base, history of physical anthropology, funerary archeology, archeology of ancient city, the burial rites of the ancient and modern nations, problems of studying the remains of historical figures and the relics of saints.

Personal site:

Елена Толмачева
Helena Tolmatcheva
Helena Tolmatcheva
Елена Вагнер-Сапухина
Elena Vagner-Sapukhina
Elena Vagner-Sapukhina

Graduated from the Volgograd State University in 2014. The theme of the final qualifying work: "The demographic characteristics of the population of Tsarevskoye site and its region" ( Scientific director – M. A. Balabanova).
In 2016 graduated from the Archaeology Department of the Faculty of History of the Moscow State University. The theme of the Master's thesis: "The funeral rite and cranial features of Ancient Rus population of the Upper Dnieper and Upper Volga" (Scientific director – D. V. Pezhemsky).
Since 2016 is a PhD student of the Physycal Anthropology department of the Faculty of Biology of the Moscow State University.

Participated in archaeological excavations of the Early Iron Age mounds in the Volgograd region, the site of the Golden Horde period Bolgar in the Republic of Tatarstan, the Ancient necropolis “Tchaika” near Yevpatoria in the Crimea Republic.
In 2014-1015 was a member of the International Archaeology School in Bolgar ("Paleoanthropology" and "Geoinformation technology in archeology" departments).

Елизавета Чернобахтова
Elizaveta Chernobahtova
Elizaveta Chernobahtova
Иван Горячев
Ivan Goryachev
Ivan Goryachev
Лилия Зарипова
Lilia Zaripova
Lilia Zaripova
Мария Курбанова
Maria Kurbanova
Maria Kurbanova
Наталья Асташова
Natalia Astashova
Natalia Astashova
Ольга Доброва
Olga Dobrova
Olga Dobrova
Ольга Федорчук
Olga Fedorchuk
Olga Fedorchuk
Павел Холошин
Pavel Kholoshin
Pavel Kholoshin
Novaya ploshchad', 12/5 
109012 Moscow, Russia
Tel.: +7 (499) 110-08-91

Mailing Address: 
Paleoethnology Research Center 
P.O.B. 46 (а/я 46)
109012 Moscow, Russia 

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