Monday, August 15, 2022

Northernmost Neolithic Fortifications Found

The group of archaeologists in the project under the state order of the Ministry of Science and Education of Russia is headed by Victor Borzunov.
Photo from Victor Borzunov's personal archive

To establish and characterize in detail the livelihood strategies of the primitive population of the Trans-Urals and Western Siberia of the Stone, Bronze and Early Iron eras. This is the task archeologists at Ural Federal University have set for themselves within the interdisciplinary project "Regional Identity of Russia: Comparative Historical and Philological Studies". Scientists have found that during the New Stone Age, the aborigines of the forest belt of the north of the Eurasian continent continued to maintain an appropriate economy and could not rise to the level of a fundamentally new production economy.

Scientists conduct research in this area under the state order of the Ministry of Science and Education of Russia (№ FEUZ-2020-0056) and under a grant from the Russian Science Foundation. The group in the project is headed by Victor Borzunov, a Senior Researcher of the Fundamental Research Archaeological Laboratory of UrFU.

The work, which continued many years of research by the laboratory personnel, is carried out in three main directions. The first is the study of neolithization of the societies of the Ural-West Siberian Region. In other words, the peculiarities of ancient groups of 6th-4th millennia B.C. to the advanced innovations of the Old World, such as productive economy, more or less strong sedentary life, large stationary settlements, ceramic production, defense architecture, fundamentally different house-building, stone processing, new social structures etc.

The second direction is the analysis of the origin and development of the ancient defensive architecture of the north of Eurasia in the 7th millennium B.C. - 3rd century A.D., its place and role in the general system of origin and development of fortified settlements, proto-cities and cities of the Old World.

The third direction is the study of the process of inclusion of the indigenous and immigrant population of the Middle Trans-Ural region in the system of ancient mountain-metallurgical provinces of Eurasia during the Bronze Age and Early Iron Age.

As part of the first research area, Senior Researchers Lyubov Kosinskaya and Victor Borzunov suggested a model of neolithization of the taiga zone of Western Siberia in the context of global migrations in Eurasia due to global warming in the Northern Hemisphere. Through field research and radiocarbon analysis, they determined that the earliest examples of ancient ceramic crafts in the Urals and the taiga Priob'ye region date to the end of the 7th to early 6th millennium B.C. The ideas and skills of ceramic production came most likely from the Middle East to the forest zone of Northern Eurasia.

"The development of ceramic production in the Neolithic epoch shows the gradual transition of gatherers, hunters and fishermen who migrated to the north from a mobile to a more sedentary way of life. Pottery (as well as birch bark dishes) were used by the settlers to store food supplies for the winter. Even under the new conditions, however, a subsistence economy was still dominant. The main foodstuffs were obtained by the inhabitants of the area through fishing (with nets and fencing off sections of water bodies and rivers) as well as hunting, including seasonal hunting with the help of extensive fences and large trap pits. The sectors of the productive economy such as farming and cattle breeding were absent in the studied territories at that time", emphasizes Borzunov.

At the same time, transport means, stone-working, bone-cutting and wood-working industries, clothing and shoe-making technologies, etc., were improved. At the same time, unlike the inhabitants of the Ural zone, the Neolithic population of Western Siberia faced an acute deficit of quality stone. Compensating partly for this deficit, they switched to the wide manufacture of weapons and tools from slate (polished axes, chisels, arrowheads), quartz and quartzite (baffles, scrapers, arrowheads, etc.). From the southern territories jasper, high-quality flint and other stone products were occasionally brought to the taiga.

Significant progress was made in house-building. The Mesolithic population lived along the banks of rivers and lakes, in small camps built with light frame and frame-pillar dwellings. Ritual practices underwent changes. During the Neolithic in the Ural and Western Siberia, burials in graves were extremely rare. At the same time, in the mountainous-forested Trans-Ural region, in the Konda River basin, a single peculiar cultic center appeared in the place of abandoned settlements which were hills-sanctuaries with traces of sacrifices, poured from soil, sand, shards of dishes and tool fragments, enclosed by shallow circular ditches. These monuments such as the Poludyonkovsky, Koksharovsky, Ust-Vagilsky, Makhtylsky "sacrificial" hills, Devil's Hillfort were the objects of research of other scientists.

In the second and third directions, in the process of field research and laboratory analytical studies, Ural Federal University archaeologists have made discoveries not only of regional, but also of all-Russian and partly of Eurasian scale.

In the second direction the scientists managed to determine the location and, under the leadership of Victor Borzunov, outline the area of the northernmost in Eurasia and the world neolithic fortifications of the 6th-4th millennium B.C., located in the taiga Priobie and Trans-Urals. The most northern and ancient of these fortifications, the settlement of Amnya I, was discovered by archaeologists from UrFU in the late 1980s in the basin of the Kazym River in the Lower Priobie. Radiocarbon analysis showed that the site belongs to the 6th millennium B.C., and with calibration corrections it dates to the 7th-6th millennium B.C.

"The emergence of fortifications in the taiga occurred against the background of a sharp global warming of the climate in the northern hemisphere, with temperatures higher than today. Warming shifted the northern boundary of the forests up to the middle of the Yamal Peninsula. Then also occurred the first mass settlement of the West Siberian taiga by societies that previously, apparently, inhabited the territory of the modern Ural-Siberian forest-steppe, the Ural-Kazakh steppes, the Caspian and Aral Sea regions. The reason for the creation of the fortified centers in the taiga is the first division and assignment of the richest hunting and fishing grounds to the individual, most powerful communities and the establishment of absolute control over them," explains Victor Borzunov.

According to him, in terms of topography, defensive system, residential architecture and other characteristics Ural-West Siberian fortified settlements are fundamentally different from the ancient fortifications of the south and east of Eurasia, which appeared in the Middle East in the 9th - 6th millennium B.C. First in the world and in the Old-World pastoral farmers created fortifications and protocities with stone and adobe defensive and residential architecture, using wood only as a supporting material.

"It cannot be completely ruled out that the ancient "peoples" of the north of Siberia borrowed the very idea of creation surrounded by the simplest fortification devices. However, assumptions that the appearance of ceramics, weapons and tools of quality stone, fortified settlements and other innovations in the taiga Priob'ye are caused by direct and simultaneous relocation of cattle farmers from Anatolia and the Balkans are not confirmed," indicates Borzunov.

In the third area of research led by Olga Korochkova, Head Specialist of the Laboratory, Ural Federal University archaeologists identified and characterized in the western part of the Sverdlovsk Region a powerful center of non-ferrous metallurgy and metalworking of the Bronze Age in the Koptyak-Seyma area of the Trans-Ural region. It functioned in the mountain-forested Trans-Ural region in the 20th-18th centuries B.C. as part of the vast Eurasian metallurgical province. Its reference archeological monument - a unique cult center Shaitanskoye Lake II, discovered by Tagil archeologists and studied by Ural Federal University employees - is located between Ekaterinburg and Nizhny Tagil. This sanctuary with copper-bronze weapons, numerous sacrifices and rare burials was founded by a "symbiotic" society.

Source/Credit: Ural Federal University

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