The Yamal-Nenets district Museum exhibition Complex of I.S. Shemanovski, Salekhard
A MEMORIAL AT THE END OF THE EARTH: NEV FACTS IN THE HISTORY OF THE LENINGRAD ETHNOGRAPHER NATALIA KOTOVSHCHIKOVA’S DEATH AND BURIAL IN THE NORTH OF YAMAL IN 1929
It seems that the story of a 1929 North Yamal Expedition of the USSR Academy of Science which was tragically terminated because of a sudden death of its leader N.A. Kotovshchikova has already been told in every detail. Nonetheless, even almost 90 years after the events we discovered new documents which may complement and illustrate the story of that episode in the Yamal history.
In 2016 the the Shemanovsky MEC received from the Evladovs family part of the V.P. Evladov's personal archive. In the process of preliminary study of the received materials we discovered some 1931 photos which could throw light on the process of exhumation of N.A. Kotovshchikova's body, and the pictures of the first and the second memorials on her grave. In addition the V.P. Evladov's archive also contained the originals of two letters written to him in 1928 by N.A. Kotovshchikova. The texts of the letters were published in "Sovetskaya etnographia" magazine [Пика, 1989. С. 105-107] and on the web site of the Yamal archaeological expedition (www.yamalarchaeology.ru).
V.P. Evladov most likely got the photos from doctor, A.I. Shubinsky, who performed the autopsy of N.A. Kotovshchikova's body in July 1931. In the Evladov's archive there were at least two photos of Shubinsky of 1926. At that time Arseny Pavlovich was the head of the Obdor hospital, and Vladimir Petrovich came to the Yamal for the first time as a member of the veterinaries' expedition. In 1931 V.P. Evladov worked in one of the Northern Sea Route Authority structures which authorized the new examination of the young Leningrad ethnographer's grave.
In 2012 the photos of M.A. Kotovshchikova's grave were made by archaeologist A.V. Plekhanov. In the photos one can see a wooden pole with two tablets. The upper copper tablet was made by V.N. Chernetsov and K.Ya. Ratner in 1929. The inscription on it is still readable. The lower tablet was added after the exhumation in 1931. The inscription on that lower tablet was destroyed, but it could be read on the archive photo: "This memorial was made by the members of the Uralgosrybtrest fishing and research expedition. July, 1931".
Today for some reason it is commonly believed that this tragedy was caused by an excessive interest of the woman-ethnographer to the aboriginal sacred places, though N.A. Kotovshchikova herself blamed the failure of her expedition on the extremely poor preparedness of its members to the realities of the Far North [Pika, 1989]. She wrote about it in her last letters to her friends and family [Sotnikova-Ratner, 2017].
This grave at the end of the Earth must always remind the new researchers that the North does not have mercy on anyone.
Kozlov V. Polar factory / Ed. А. N. Bashurov. – Sverdlovsk; M.: Uralogis, 1933. – PP. 85-86.
Pika A.I. New materials to the history of the first Soviet ethnographic expedition to Yamal (1928-1929) // Soviet Ethnography. 1989. – №6. – PP. 100-108
Sotnikova-Ratner T. Three people on the Yamal // Zvesda. 2017. – №3. (http://magazines.russ.ru/zvezda/2017/3/troe-na-yamale.html).