The Department is comprised of two sectors: the sector of the Eastern European forests and forested steppe; and the South Eurasian sector. The Department’s collections number over 1,500,000 items. The Department has thirty-five employees, including four holders of doctoral degrees. Head of Department: Andrey Alekseev.
The Department was formed in December 1930, separating from the Hermitage Department of Antiquities (it was first named the Department of pre-Class and Early Class-Based Society, later the Department of the History of Prehistoric Culture).
The Hermitage collection of ancient cultural artefacts was carefully built up from the mid-19th century onwards based on the holdings of the Imperial Archaeological Commission; it currently comprises around 1,500,000 objects.
The key areas of research at the Department are directly linked to the objects in its keeping. The oldest items are Palaeolithic; there is also a sizeable Neolithic collection. A special attention is paid to the historical and cultural artefacts of the ancient agricultural societies, which are represented by fine painted pottery and original clay sculptures. The Bronze Age culture is introduced by the numerous finds from the steppes of South Russia, Siberia, the North Caucasus. The uniquely rich and diverse collections of objects linked to the nomads of the Eurasian steppes are represented by the Siberian collection of Peter the Great and the Scythian treasures from the North Caucasus, the North Black Sea Region, Altay and Southern Siberia. They all contain fine jewellery made in the so-called ‘zoomorphic’ style. The history of the nomadic cultures is continued by the Sarmatian artefacts and the objects made by the medieval Eurasian nomads such as the Huns, the Bulgars, the Khazars, the Polovtsians. The collection also contains witnesses of Early medieval culture of the Finnic tribes from South-Eastern Baltic and the middle reaches of the Volga. The Department also houses finds from forested steppe sites and burials representing the Zarubintsy and Chernyakhov cultures from the 2nd c. B.C. – 4th c. A.D. and a well-known collection of Late Classical and Early Medieval artefacts from the Bosporan Kingdom. The collections from the early Ancient Russian period are especially valuable.