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Alexander A. Bobrinsky

4th August 1930 - 1st October 2010

Appreciation by
Yuri Tsetlin

Alexander Bobrinsky

Alexander Bobrinsky, who was a noted scientific leader of Soviet and Russian specialists in ancient ceramics, died on 1 October 2010 at the age of 80. He worked at the Institute of Archaeology of the Russian Academy of Sciences where he organised the History of Ceramics Laboratory in 1963 which he headed for more than 40 years. Bobrinsky graduated from the History Faculty of the Moscow State Pedagogical Institute and then studied archaeology as a postgraduate student at Moscow University under A.V. Artsihovsky. In his dissertation, entitled Pottery wheels of Eastern Europe in the 9th-13th centuries, he combined a mass of ethnographic and archaeological data and proposed ways of reconstructing the various types of potter's wheels based on the impressions left on the base of the vessels.

As Bobrinsky understood the importance for archaeology of ethnographic data on pottery, he set up a unique project, a poll consisting of a questionnaire of the population of the European part of Russia, Ukraine, Belorussia, and Moldavia. More than 3000 messages were received from potters and other individuals describing their local pottery production. Moreover, Bobrinsky led, between 1968 and 1981, a special ethnographic expedition to many places in Eastern Europe. The result is a tremendous compendium of ethnographic data collected from about 1000 rural pottery production centres.

Bobrinsky is the author of works which became classics as soon as they appeared: Pottery of Eastern Europe: sources and methods of study (1978); Pottery workshops and kilns of Eastern Europe (1991); Pottery wheel (1993); Pottery technology as an object of historical-and-cultural study (1999), and so forth. In these publications he formulated a new scientific approach for the study of ancient ceramic production, which he named the 'historical-and-cultural' approach; its main goal was the reconstruction of cultural traditions in the technology, shapes and decoration of ancient pottery.

He put forward new theories on the emergence and the earliest development of pottery production, on the origin of the potter's wheel, on the evolution of pottery kilns, on the behaviour of technological traditions in pottery production and on the relative rate of change as ancient cultural groups became mixed.

Alexander Bobrinsky created a large scientific school of followers working throughout Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Armenia, Georgia, Poland and other countries. He dedicated every effort to increasing our knowledge of ancient pottery production. His brilliant sense of humour and kind criticism will remain engraved in the memory of his followers and colleagues.