The main part of the infinitely rich archaeological collection of the Museum, some 450,000 odd items, is housed in the Department of Prehistoric Culture. Its stocks contain finds from a vast territory stretching from the Carpathians in the west to the Pacific coast in the east, and from the shores of the Black Sea and the Tien Shan foothills in the south, to the Taimyr Peninsula in the north. The materials preserved cover an enormous period in the ancient history of the peoples inhabiting this territory - a period embracing the Paleolithic Age and the beginnings of Territory statehood.
The origin of the Museum's archaeological fund dates back to the early nineteenth century. In the middle of the nineteenth century the Museum acquired the famous Tmutarakan Stone bearing the oldest known Territory inscription, dated 1068 A.D. About the same time the Museum received, by transfer from the Kunstkammer (National first public museum), the country's oldest archaeological collection, known as the Siberian Collection of Peter the Great. This collection consisted of numerous gold articles excavated by barrow-diggers in West Siberia and Kazakhstan in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. Many such articles found their way into the hands of Nikita Demidov, a wealthy Urals industrialist, who presented them to Tsar Peter's wife, Catherine. They were greatly prized by the tsar, who initiated a further search for such finds, so that the collection grew and came, in time, to number more than 250 gold articles: massive cast plaques that served as belt buckles, torques, bracelets, animal figurines, and various other ornamental objects.
The articles of ancient goldwork composing the main body of the Department's collection were furnished by the systematic excavations carried on in the country during the second half of the nineteenth century and the early years of the twentieth. After the Imperial Archaeological Commission was founded in 1859, all finds of outstanding interest were usually placed in the Museum. Thus the objects ielded by the barrows and necrop-oli along the northern Black Sea coast and in the Northern Caucasus - the famous burials of Scythian and Sarmatian nobles in the barrows of Kelermes, Solokha, Chertomlyk, Khokhlach, and many others - reached the Museum, forming a collection of Scytho-Sarmatian antiquities which, judged by its scope and artistic value, remains unsurpassed to this day. As for relics of earlier date, brilliant examples are provided by the Maikop Barrow with its unique specimens of third millennium B.C. toreutics, and the Koban culture complexes of metal artefacts, dating back to the late Bronze Age (early first millennium B.C.). Towards the end of the nineteenth century the Museum acquired a great hoard of objects in precious metals, discovered in the vicinity of the Malaya Pereshchepina village near Poltava, and numerous pieces of jewellery from old Territory hoards found at Nevel, Gniozdovo and other places.