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A summary of the chronology for the key paleontological and archaeological site of Volchia Griva in the southern part of the West Siberian Plain is presented. Currently, 42 reliable 14C values have been generated on animal bones (37 14C dates) and charcoal (5 14C dates). Three stratigraphic levels of animal bones are established. The 14C ages of the fossils are as follows: the upper level—ca. 10,620–12,520 BP; the middle level—ca. 13,700–17,800 BP; and the lower level—ca. 18,230–19,790 BP. The majority of animal fossils and artifacts are associated with the lower level. Based on the results obtained, we suggest that Upper Paleolithic people occupied the Volchia Griva site during the second part of the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM), ca. 18,200–19,800 BP, and perhaps occasionally afterwards. It is obvious that these humans were well adapted to the cold and dry climate of the LGM, as well as numerous other populations in Siberia south of 58°N. It is noteworthy that the youngest 14C values on woolly mammoth are of ca. 10,620–11,815 BP, and this makes the Volchia Griva one of the latest mammoth refugia in northern Eurasia outside of the Arctic.
In 2020, a unique bone assemblage was found at the Late Paleolithic site Volchia Griva. Its base is made of a distal mammoth femur minus epiphysis, in which a cavity has been hollowed out. Impact notches along the edges of the cavity and holes in the metaphysis prove the human-made nature of this specimen. A portion of a polar fox cranium, half of a fox hemimandible, a fox tooth, and a large mammal rib fragment were enclosed in the cavity. The mammoth femur was previously used as a retoucher, as evinced by the impressions and cut marks. Incisions were detected on the polar fox cranium, indicating skinning. According to two 14C dates, the age of the remains is 19.3–19.1 ka BP. Palynological analysis of the cavity fill shows a forb-grass steppe at that time. The assemblage, which has no known analogues, is a reflection of prehistoric culture. This extraordinary find most likely is evidence of the ritual behavior of people who lived in the south of Western Siberia during the last glacial maximum. The assemblage was accompanied by a large number of fox remains, and lithic artifacts identical to bladelet-based Late Paleolithic industries of Siberia and the Middle Urals.
This paper examines patterns of human–environmental interactions across northern Asia during the Holocene, in order to summarize current knowledge and identify key areas for future research. To achieve these goals, currently available chronological, cultural, and paleoenvironmental datasets from the east Russian Arctic for the last 10,000 14C years were integrated. Study regions include the Taymyr Peninsula, Lena River basin (except its southern part), northeastern Siberia, and Kamchatka Peninsula. Several broad-scale correlations between climatic fluctuations and cultural responses (e.g., subsistence strategies and occupation densities) were identified; however, these are not straightforward. For example, the increase of occupations during the warm periods in the Early–Middle Holocene are notable while the most pronounced rises coincide with a cooling trend in the Late Holocene. This shows that the human–environmental relationships in the Holocene were not linear; more interdisciplinary research will be needed to construct higher resolution data for understanding prehistoric cultural responses to past environmental changes in the Asian Arctic.
Chronological and stratigraphic frameworks are of the utmost importance for Upper Paleolithic archaeology, physical anthropology, and ecology. Wide ranging radiocarbon (14C) dates were previously obtained for the Sungir burial complex in the central part of European Russia, which is well-known as the richest funeral Paleolithic assemblage in the world yet recorded. The major problem was the contamination caused by consolidants used during the recovery of human bones in the 1960s. The stratigraphy and spatial structure of the Sungir site were also not well understood previously. New radiocarbon and stable isotope data are generated for the Sungir burials. While some dates were younger due to incomplete removal of contamination, the XAD 14C age on S-1 burial (ca. 29,780 BP) was found to be statistically the same as the previously performed HYP 14C age for this burial (ca. 28,890 BP). Four animal bones found in cultural layer below the burial date to ca. 28,800–30,140 BP, suggesting that both this layer and human burials date to roughly this age range. Narrowing these ages further is difficult considering the larger errors of the 14C dates. This shows that future research attempting to 14C date material excavated many years ago needs to eliminate potential contamination from consolidants through analyses such as FTIR, prior to 14C dating. The chronology and stratigraphy of Sungir do not contradict to correlation of its lithic artifacts with the Streletskian assemblage as the East European variant of the Final Szeletian technocomplex (Early Upper Paleolithic).
We present an overview of the beginning and early years of radiocarbon dating in Russia. Achievements of several major scholars in this field from Leningrad (St. Petersburg), Moscow and Novosibirsk are briefly described. The existing and closed Russian laboratories are also mentioned.
We report a new series of radiocarbon (14C) dates on the MIS 3 megafauna for a previously poorly studied region of southeastern West Siberia. Some species, like woolly mammoth and woolly rhinoceros, and Pleistocene bison and horse, existed throughout the MIS 3 (ca. 29–59 ka cal BP); cave hyaena is dated to ca. 46,400 cal BP. The very late 14C dates on Khozarian steppe elephant (Mammuthus trogontherii chosaricus), ca. 45,100–45,400 cal BP, may indicate the survival of this species in Siberia up to MIS 3. More work is needed to confirm or reject this suggestion. Previously, Khozarian steppe elephant was known in Siberia only at the beginning of the Late Pleistocene (MIS 5e).
The reliability of radiocarbon dates for Palaeolithic human burials is of utmost importance for prehistoric archaeologists. Recently obtained dates for several such burials in central Russia raise important interrelated issues concerning site taphonomy and the precise radiocarbon-dating technique employed, with implications for the ‘true’ age of the burials. A critical review of the dating of the Sungir and Kostenki burials calls into question the reliability of employing ultrafiltration or single amino acids for the radiocarbon dating of Upper Palaeolithic bones.
Zhokhov Island in the Siberian High Arctic has yielded evidence for some of the most remote prehistoric human occupation in the world, as well as the oldest-known dog-sled technology. Obsidian artefacts found on Zhokhov have been provenanced using XRF analysis to allow comparison with known sources of obsidian from north-eastern Siberia. The results indicate that the obsidian was sourced from Lake Krasnoe—approximately 1500km distant—and arrived on Zhokhov Island c. 8000 BP. The archaeological data from Zhokhov therefore indicate a super-long-distance Mesolithic exchange network.
New paleodietary data were obtained after the discovery and excavation in 2015–2017 of the Cherepakha 13 site in the southern part of Primorye (Maritime) Province in far eastern Russia. The site is located near the coast of Ussuri Bay (Sea of Japan) and belongs to the Yankovsky cultural complex of the Early Iron Age 14C-dated to ca. 3000 BP (ca. 1200 cal BC). The stable isotope composition of the bone collagen for 11 humans and 30 animals was determined. For humans, the following values (with±1 sigma) were yielded: δ13C=–10.2±0.8‰; and δ15N=+12.4±0.3‰. The majority of terrestrial animals show the usual isotopic signals: δ13C=–19.4 ÷ –23.3‰; and δ15N=+4.6÷+6.6‰ (for wolves, up to +10.1‰); dogs, however, have an isotopic composition similar to humans: δ13C= –11.7±1.2‰; and δ15N=+12.4±0.4‰. Marine mammals have common values for pinnipeds: δ13C=–13.7 ÷ –14.6‰; and δ15N=+17.4 ÷ +18.0‰. The main food resources for the population of Cherepakha 13 site were (1) marine mollusks, fish, and mammals; and (2) terrestrial mammals; and possibly C4 plants (domesticated millets).
Despite the fact that several books and a plethora of articles have been published in recent decades on the archaeology of the USSR and Russia, Soviet-Russian archaeology is still largely ignored in the West (e.g. Fagan 2003, but see Trigger 2006: 230–32, 326–44). For non-Russian scholars, the first acquaintance with it can be nightmarish; for example, Anthony (2007: 164) describes the periodisation of the Aeneolithic Cucuteni-Tripolye culture of Ukraine and Moldova (parts of the USSR before 1991), and Romania:
There is a Borges-like dreaminess to the Cucuteni pottery sequence: one phase (Cucuteni C) is not a phase at all but rather a type of pottery probably made outside the Cucuteni-Tripolye culture; another phase (Cucuteni A1) was defined before it was found, and never was found.
The chronology of the Mesolithic, Neolithic, Aeneolithic, and Bronze Age sites in the Trans-Urals (Russia) was studied, and a framework for previously established cultural complexes is suggested based on 153 radiocarbon dates. In this new chronological model, the Mesolithic is dated to ~10,000–6500 cal BC; the Neolithic complexes exist at ~6500–3800 cal BC; the Aeneolithic is dated to ~4300–2800 cal BC; the Early Bronze Age spans ~2500–2100 cal BC; and the Late Bronze Age can be preliminary assigned to ~1600–1100 cal BC.
The Khayrgas Cave in Yakutia (eastern Siberia) is one of the most important Upper Paleolithic sites in northern Asia, and has been the subject of extensive 14C dating and study of mammal bones. The upper part of the cave sequence (Layers 2–4) dates to the Holocene (~4100–8200 BP), and the lower part (Layers 5–7) to the Late Pleistocene (~13,100–21,500 BP). In Layers 2–4, only extant animal species are known; ecologically they belong to a forest-type ecosystem. In Layers 5–7, several extinct species were identified, and the environment at that time corresponded to open and semi-open ecosystems. The Khayrgas Cave provides rare but reliable evidence of human occupation in the deep continental region of eastern Siberia at the Last Glacial Maximum, ~20,700–21,500 BP.