Jan Czerski

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This article is about the explorer. For the priest, see Johannes Czerski (priest).
Jan Czerski

Jan Stanisław Franciszek Czerski (3 May 1845 – 25 June 1892) was a Polish paleontologist (osteologist), geologist, geographer and explorer of Siberia.[1] He was exiled to Transbaikalia for participation in the January Uprising of 1863.[2] A self-taught scientist, he eventually received three gold medals from the Russian Geographical Society, and his name was given to a settlement, two mountain ranges, several peaks and other places. He authored the first map of Lake Baikal and died during an expedition to Kolyma.[2]


Son of Dominik and Xenia Czerski, a noble family (szlachta), he was born on 3 May 1845 in Swolna, then Vitebsk Governorate of the Russian Empire (now in Vitebsk Region, Belarus). At the age of 18, as a high-school student in Vilnius (at the Instytut Szlachecki (Noble Institution)) he took part in the January Uprising (1863–1864). He was captured and taken prisoner on 28 April 1863, and then stripped of his noble status, with his lands being repossessed by another family member loyal to the Russian government. Czerski was then forcibly conscripted into the Russian Army and exiled to Siberia (to Blagoveshchensk near Amur River) by the Russian authorities.[1] He never made it to Blagoveshchensk, and was detached to serve in a formation near Omsk. During that time he was taken in by some other Poles (Marczewski, Kwiatkowski) living in exile in Omsk region, as well as a Russian geographer, Grigory Nikolayevich Potanin. With their help he became interested in the natural history of the region. They provided him with literature on Siberia and natural sciences, and during his free time he self-educated himself and carried out his first research.

After release from the army in 1869 he did not receive permission to return home, becoming a political exilee. He was refused entrance to university; his publications and his first attempt to enter the Russian Geographical Society were also rejected. For the next two years he was forced to work as a teacher in Omsk, as he was denied the right to leave the area.

In 1871 he received permission to move to Irkutsk; there he meet other Polish exiles-turned-scholars, Aleksander Czekanowski and Benedykt Dybowski. With their help (Czekanowski is considered his mentor) he entered the Russian Geographical Society, got a job at a local museum and took part in several expeditions, gaining experience and prominence. He took part in expeditions to the Sayan Mountains, Irkut River Valley and Lower Tunguska River. During four expeditions (1877–1881) Czerski explored the valley of the Selenga river and published a study on Lake Baikal, explaining the origin of the lake and presenting the geological structure of East Siberia. Perhaps the most notable of these expeditions was the study of the geological structure of the coast of Lake Baikal. The result of this work was the first geological map of that coast, a map for which Czerski was decorated with a gold medal from the Russian Academy of Sciences (he received three in total during his career [1]), as well as an international award in Bologna, Italy. In his later work Czerski put forward the idea of the development of a relief (1878) and offered one of the first analysis of the tectonics of central Asia (1886) and pioneered geomorphological evolution theory.

In 1878 he married Marfa Pavlovna Ivanova, a native of Siberia. In 1883 he was pardoned by the Russian government, and later regained his noble status. He lived in Irkutsk until 1886, working in the east-Siberian department of the Russian Geographical Society. In 1886 he fell ill (progressing tuberculosis and even partial paralysis) and was allowed to move to Saint Petersburg, where he joined the St Petersburg Science Academy; nonetheless he took time during his travel from Irkutsk to Petersburg to carefully document the geological details of the route. During that period he was appointed head of an expedition exploring the Yana, Indigirka and Kolyma basins. He collected and cataloged over 2,500 ancient bones, publishing a large work on Quaternary Period mammals in 1888, followed by an even larger work on the Siberian mammals relics in 1891.

He died on 25 June 1892 during an expedition to Kolyma, Yana and Indigirka Rivers. He was buried near the Omolon River.

Named in honour[edit]

His name was given to several landmarks in Siberia, including the Chersky Mountain Range and the settlement of Chersky in the Sakha Republic, another mountain range similarly named in Chita Oblast, the Chersky Mountain - highest peak (2572 m) of the Baikal Range, Chersky Peak (2090 m) - one of the highest peaks of the Chamar-Daban Range, Chersky Pass in the same mountains, Chersky Stone (728 m) - a peak in near Listvyanka, Chersky Valley and Chersky Plateau in the Sayan Mountains, a waterfall near the Baikal Lake, an inactive volcano in the Tunkinsk Valley, and Chersky Place - an archeological site near Irkutsk where ancient human remains were discovered. Three species of fossil animals were named after him: Osteolepis tscherskii (fish), Leperditia czerskii (crustacean) and Polyptchites tscherskii (ammonite) as well as numerous extant species, including cyprinid fish Sarcocheilichthys czerskii, sculpin Cottus czerskii, char Salvelinus czerskii, Baikal endemic amphipod Eulimnogammarus czerskii and bumblebee Bombus czerskii.

The Irkutsk-based Jan Czerski Belarusian Culture Society, an organization of the Belarusian minority in Russia is named after Jan Czerski.

A street in Vilnius, Lithuania, is named after Jan Czerski, Jonas Čerskis.


Full list of Czerski's works contains 97 positions; over a hundred works have been published dedicated to him.

  • "Otczot o gieołogiczeskom issledowanii bieriegowoj połosy oziera Bajkała" (1886)
  • "Gieołogiczeskije issledowanije Sibirskogo pocztowogo trakta ot oziera Bajkała do wostocznogo chriebta Uralskogo" (1888)
  • "Dziennik podróży A. Czekanowskiego" (Czekanowski's Travel Journal)
  • major work in 1891

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Iłowiecki, Maciej (1981). Dzieje nauki polskiej. Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Interpress. p. 181. ISBN 83-223-1876-6. 
  2. ^ a b John J. Stephan, The Russian Far East: A History, Stanford University Press, 1994, ISBN 0-8047-2701-5, Google Print, p.315


Further reading[edit]

  • Przegląd Geologiczny, nr 11, 1962.
  • Sidorski D., Zielony ocean, Ossolineum, 1973.
  • Twarogowski J., Poczet wielkich geologów, Warszawa 1974.
  • Wójcik Z., Jan Czerski, Wydawnictwo Lubelskie, Lublin 1986.
  • Czarniecki, Stanislaw (1970–80). "Czerski, Jan". Dictionary of Scientific Biography. 3. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. pp. 531–532. ISBN 978-0-684-10114-9. 
  • Shishanov V.A. Moor Cherskaya: time memories // Archives of Vitebsk heritage as a source of learning history of the region: Proceedings of archival reading dedicated to the 150th anniversary of the birth of A.P.Sapunova. 6–7 June 2002, Vitebsk / Warehouse V.V.Skalaban etc. Minsk: BelNDIDAS, 2002. P.111-120.[2].

External links[edit]