Rasmo — kropo — go — dilos!"
"No, colleague, not right!
"Rasmo — kropo — godilos!
"But this is only Vanka; he simply wrote, "Rasmokropogodilos!"
There was such a joke long ago about the Radlov Expedition for research and study of inscriptions upon the rocks and stones of Siberia. It was a joke not only because the inscriptions were undecipherable for quite some time but because people in general smirked, not understanding the significance of archaeology. The destiny of antiquities, particularly Russian antiquities, describes a tortuous path.
When there was opportunity to sketch the cross-sections of the tumuli, then it was especially painful to notice the trenches left by marauders. And often these marauders were practically the contemporaries of that very same tumulus or grave. Often the trench was dug with evident knowledge of the details of the burial, showing understanding of the value of all the objects placed there. In Egypt, in Asia, in the southern steppes of Russia the marauders frequently followed on the heels of the burial. And how many professional treasure hunters, mound diggers, tumuli seekers irreparably hindered scientific deductions.
In the chronicles of Siberian history, for example, we read: "In spite of all the dangers connected with the pursuit of this trade, some tumuli diggers turned it into a means of livelihood; they acquired such skill that from the exterior view alone of the tumuli they could determine their relative antiquity and the contents of precious metals in them. Since many of the tumuli were of considerable size, and some were also covered with heavy stones weighing from 400 to 800 pounds, the tumuli diggers organized companies of from 200 to 300 people and made a business of "mounding"".
In the eighteenth century one such company of 150 men found a tumulus along the midstream of the Irtysh and dug from it upwards of 50 pounds of gold in various forms. True, not all Siberian tumuli were so rich, yet there was so much "grave" gold and silver in circulation that in Krasnoyarsk, in the chief market of tumuli jewels, in the eighteenth century the "grave" gold was sold at 50 to 90 kopecks per zolotnik (96th part of a Russian pound). These valuables in their time formed an important part of trading in the Irbit Fair, where they were readily bought by Russians and strangers, and were widely spread beyond the Urals.
The same destiny also overtook those monuments of Siberian antiquity from which some usefulness could have been derived. The remnants of the ancient structures — "stone babas"1 and tombstones — often covered with the most curious inscriptions and images, were used up to recent times as grindstones or simply as material for new structures, of course without any consideration for the scientific significance of the monuments of antiquity which 'had thus been destroyed.
Hand in hand with marauding and greediness were encountered the most insufferable evidences of vandalism. Many beautiful cave frescos and carvings were destroyed by fanatics. And yet — seek closer. Do not lull yourself with the thought that such destruction took place only long ago. Do not blame only those long since moldered vandals.
Fanaticism still flourishes, and in what ingenious garments! Either it is directed by religious delusions or, in contrast, it is inspired by godlessness. The plundering of the tumuli marauders pales before the savage sweep of fanaticism.
Sometimes out of the pilferer's hands an object would come into good hands. But the rage of fanaticism knows only destruction and mutilation. Is it not terrible to think that fanaticism exists even today? Often during the hours of lectures about monuments of art and ways of life these very monuments are actually being destroyed. Say after this that the destiny of creativeness is safeguarded! Dare to insist that all is well!
Only ignorance will lull a just watchfulness. Conventional behavior will say, "Let us not disturb the orderliness of the gathering with unpleasant news." But the real danger is great. One cannot become reconciled to the knowledge that fanaticism exists in a very extensive, ugly variety.
Whether the marauder breaks an amphora, or a jeweller melts down a Cellini goblet into mere metal, whether a priceless statue be destroyed by a fanatic, or a monument by an ignoramus — in all this there is an abysmal savagery. Next to this destruction there stands also the mutilation of the beautiful creations of antiquity! Crude structural additions, patchwork, and quasi-restorations kill the soul of a monument.
After the hand of the fanatic comes the hand of the hypocrite, the haughty, and the ignoramus, each of whom in his own way changes the finest creations. As a rule, senselessly, without feeling, these often irreparable sacrileges take place. The lost beauty becomes forever frozen in a grimace of distortion. A pitiful, repulsive aspect replaces the original enchantment.
Leaving a valuable monument in the desert, we often asked the guide, "Will it be safe?" And, wise in experience, he would shake his head, "May be from beasts, but hardly from people."
Sorrowful is such a remark from a person of experience. Yet many problems are solved through opposition. Let precisely this contrariety help the benevolently minded co-workers to gather in courageous defense of all that is sacredly beautiful.
Chiefly, know more. Harken, love to read, and discuss reality. There is too much ignorance.
Peking January 1, 1935
1 Stone sculptures of women.