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Steve Chaplin
University Communications

Last modified: Wednesday, March 25, 2009

IU anthropologist's project looks to expose, protect riches of Central Asia

Visiting Kyrgyzstan delegation work-shopping, visiting museums, cultural heritage sites

March 25, 2009

Editor's note: Anne Pyburn, anthropology professor and director of the Indiana University Center for Archaeology in the Public Interest, and members of the Kyrgyzstan delegation studying cultural and heritage-based preservation and tourism will be available to meet with media from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. Friday, March 26, at the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art in Indianapolis.

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Professor Kubat Tabaldiev of Kyrgyzstan traveled six thousand miles from one of the most culturally diverse countries on earth to watch members of the Ojibwe tribe perform Native American dances in Michigan. He loved the experience so much that he can't wait to get back home and share what he learned.

Kyrgzstan group photo

Members of a Kyrgyzstan delegation have been visiting IU for nearly two weeks to share information and learn about archaeological ethics, heritage museums and cultural centers. The project developed by IU anthropologist Anne Pyburn, pictured fourth from right, looks to assist with the development of similar centers and museums in Central Asia.

Print-Quality Photo

Tabaldiev and 11 other Kyrgyz arrived at Indiana University on March 14 as guests of Anne Pyburn, a Department of Anthropology professor in the IU College of Arts and Sciences who organized the community resources project with a $200,000 grant from the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. It's the hope of both Pyburn and her guests that one day the project will facilitate more cultural exchanges between the Kyrgyz and their new American acquaintances, hence Tabaldiev's eagerness to return home.

"The reason for this trip is simply to introduce some Kyrgyz people to some American counterparts who are coping with similar situations in which education of the next generation, preservation of the material record and interaction with visitors need to be juggled in a way that benefits everyone," Pyburn said. "In the wake of many important political changes in Kyrgyzstan in recent decades, Kyrgyz people have begun to develop new programs to promote their glorious cultural heritage."

The group will spend Friday, their last day here before returning home, at the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art in Indianapolis meeting with museum officials, IU researchers and others, as they wind down 13 straight days of workshops, museum visits, group discussions and seminars that have covered topics as varied as how to make culturally representative videos and maps to defining what a nomad is and refining an understanding of archaeological ethics.

Tabaldiev, an associate professor of history and an archaeologist at Kyrgyz-Turkish Manas University in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, said the group had been inspired by visits with Native Americans and stops at cultural museums.

"We have only government and state museums, but people are beginning to understand we can organize our own museums in the places we live," said Tabaldiev, who first met Pyburn in 2004 when the IU researcher was working at the American University of Central Asia in Bishkek. "Our main goal is to spread this thinking across the country."

The group is a representative slice of Kyrgyzstani life befitting a cultural exchange project, a mix of seven men and five women whose vocations include a small-acreage farmer who created his own community museum, an elected village leader, a high school principal, two museum curators, an architect, directors of the two major tourist companies in Kyrgyzstan, and two government ministers.

Their mission will be three-fold, Pyburn explained: First to develop new and culturally appropriate ways to preserve archaeological sites; then to respect and encourage local pride in those resources; and finally, to use those successes as a platform to encourage tourism into an area recognized as one of the most diverse in the world.

Remnants of several routes of the ancient Silk Road crisscross the country, many of which are still used today as travel corridors to sites that were once the primary political, economic and military centers for all of Eurasia. At one site alone -- Navikat, in the Chuy Valley -- archaeologists have identified a Zoroastrian fire altar, a collection of Nestorian Christian votive stones and two Buddhist temples. The city was founded around 600 A.D.

"We want to promote this knowledge and inform the people, who traditionally know only of the major archaeological sites," Tabaldiev said. "From our young to our elderly, we need them to understand the value of our history and our archaeology."

Pyburn said the knowledge and information sharing project continues this summer when she and other IU researchers will visit Kyrgyzstan again. An online course about Kyrgyz archaeology in both Russian and English will also be included in the MATRIX Project, a National Science Foundation-funded effort bringing archaeological teaching resources online. Pyburn co-developed MATRIX with U.S. National Parks Service archaeologist George Smith, who also was in Bloomington to participate in the workshops at Indiana University.

The final phase of the project will be workshops in the fall of 2009 in Kyrgyzstan where participants will discuss and review accomplishments, and possibly move forward toward new projects to enhance tourism development, educational outreach and international support, Pyburn said.

"The project is being approached through a method of participatory action research which does not mandate a particular outcome," she said. "But every effort has been made in the design of the project to create opportunities and provide useful information to participants without stipulating any single goal or unified mission."

And Tabaldiev believes there will be outcomes. While political complications and global economic problems leave no guarantee for government support in the newly independent nation, he said information gathered on this trip will empower local communities and regions to act on their own. Many of the ideas shared with participants cost little to implement, like developing cultural "treasure chests," or boxes of artifacts, lesson plans, photographs, maps and activities that can be geared towards different ages and interests, are affordable to create and reuse, and can be easily distributed.

"It's not impossible, we have seen, for small ideas to become reality," he said. "I think we are all very happy that once we return from this trip, more and more people will be interested in preserving our culture, our heritage and our archaeology."

To speak with Pyburn, please contact Steve Chaplin, University Communications, at 812-856-1896, or To confirm media availability at the Eiteljorg Museum, contact museum communications manager Anthony Scott at 317-275-1352, or