John Inge Svendsen, University of Bergen (Norway)
Pavel Pavlov, Russian Academy of Science (Russian Federation)
Herbjørn Heggen, University of Bergen (Norway)
Jan Mangerud, University of Bergen (Norway)
Wil Roebroeks, Leiden University (Netherlands)
Anne Karin Hufthammer, Bergen Museum (Norway)
We here present and discuss data from comprehensive archaeological and geological field investigations in Northern Russia. This includes a review of results that were obtained from the excavations of 6 Palaeolithic sites that are situated along the western flank of the Ural Mountains: Mamontovaja Kurja, Zaozer'e, Garchi, Byzovaja, Medvezhia Peshera and Pymva Shor. The stratigraphic context of the archaeological finds is presented with a focus on the geochronology and the timing of human occupation. The chronology is based on numerous radiocarbon dates of animal and plant remains as well as a number of optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) ages of the sediment sequences.
Our dating results point to hominin activities around 35 C-14 ka (Mamontovaja Kurja), 33 C-14 ka (Zaozer'e), 28-29 C-14 ka (Garchi and Byzovaja), 16-19 C-14 ka (Medveshia Peshera) and 17-13 C-14 ka (Pymva Shor). The northernmost Palaeolithic site, Mamontovaja Kurja, demonstrates that humans had crossed the Polar Circle as early as 40,000 calendar years ago. At this time the dimensions of Eurasian ice sheets, that covered a substantial part of the Russian Arctic 60-50,000 years ago, were greatly reduced. The lowland areas were completely ice free and only small glaciers may have existed in the mountains. The investigated sites provide evidence for the presence of humans along the Urals at widely different points of time during the Marine Isotope Stages (MIS) 3-2, but the data is not conclusive as to whether humans were always present in these areas during this long time span. It is nevertheless striking that as a rough approximation most of them seem to coincide with interstadial rather than stadial periods. This may give the impression that humans may have been moving northwards when the environment was the most favorable for occupation. However, there is also evidence that humans were present in the Pechora drainage area (Medveshia Pesherea) during the peak of the last glaciation around 18-16 C-14 ka, i.e. the coldest and driest period of the last ice age.
Primarily based on archaeological correlation we infer that the initial settlement in the southern part of the study area (Zaozer'e and Garchi), were by modern humans. The artifact assemblage at the earliest sites on the Pechora Lowland (Mamontovaya Kurja and Byzovaya) further to the north, are less conclusive and we cannot exclude the possibility that they were created by Neanderthals.