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32nd Annual Arctic Workshop Abstracts
March 14-16, 2002
INSTAAR, University of Colorado at Boulder

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PITULKO, VLADIMIR V. Institute for the History of Material Culture, RAS.
Anisimov, Mikhail A. Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute.
Basilyan, Alexander E. Institute for Geology, RAS.
Giria, Evgeny Yu. Institute for the History of Material Culture, RAS.
Nikolsky, Pavel A . Institute for Geolgoy, RAS.
Odess, Daniel . University of Alaska Museum.
Pavlova, Elena Yu. Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute, RAS.
Tumskoy, Vladimir E. Moscow State University.

During a recent survey by the ZHOKHOV 2000 project, a locality where geologist Mikhail Dashtseren found a foreshaft made of woolly rhinoceros horn in 1996 was revisited to assess its research potential. The site is located on the left bank of the Yana River about 100km south of its’ entrance into the Laptev Sea (73º NL). At 879km. in length, the Yana River is one of the largest river systems in North Eastern Siberia. It drains a basin of 238,, most of which is located north of the Polar Circle, and is a true Sub-Arctic and Arctic environment. A radiocarbon assay of the foreshaft suggests that the site could be 27,000 years old. This paper describes the results of the work conducted during this visit and proposes that the site, now called Yana/RHS (the Rhinoceros Horn Site) is the earliest archaeological site yet found in the part of the world

Until recently, archaeological work has only been conducted in the southern portion of the Yana basin (Scherbakova, 1980; Mikhalev & Eliseev, 1992). From their research, they concluded that the Upper Yana was permanently populated only since the middle Holocene. Although a possibility for even earlier timing of the initial population of the Yana was suggested by Mochanov (1977), Scherbakova (1980), and by Mikhalev and Eliseev (1992), until now there is no solid evidence for a pre-Holocene human occupation of this part of Siberia. Even in Indighirka basin some 500 km., to the east of the Yana, the evidence for a late Pleistocene human occupation is questionable at best.

At the Yana/RHS site the cultural material (fragmented/broken bones of Pleistocene animals and lithic artifacts) were located in several exposures along the riverbank. A preliminary description of the exposures was done for a distance of 1.6 km upstream from the point where the first artifact was found (fig. 1). Two well-marked orographic levels can be seen in the along this section. The first is about 15 m high. It is under its scarps that all of the artifacts were found. The second one is about 36 m high. The upper part is represented by an ice complex, while the lower one is formed by sandy loams and sand with aleurit filler that is characterized by irregular bedding. The sandy loam horizon can be traced along the whole length of the bank and seems to be a single layer. The transition to the ice complex is gradual and has many facies. It was noted that on the level of about 20 m above the water line the ice complex has multiple interbeds, enriched with organic materials (peat and plant remains). A series of C-14 samples were taken to assess the ages of these deposits.

In the eastern part of the section the sandy loam horizon is overlain with a complex alternation of loam, sandy loam, peat and organic layers that include fragments of wood that are up to 40 cm in diameter. Due to intensive solifluction it was impossible to trace the transition from the lower horizon to the upper one. Samples for dating were taken from the upper horizon on the level of 8-8.9m and 12 m from the water line. The upper samples come from a peat layer that reaches 15 cm thick.

Stripping of a small protruding cape was done in direct proximity to the site on the level of the water line. In its sidewall was an unclear horizon (50 cm thick) with a high organic content. A piece of wood was taken from this horizon for radiocarbon dating. This organic layer rested on a sandy horizon saturated with pebbles.

Archaeological material came from six loci, not including the place where the foreshaft was found. Altogether over 150 artifacts were collected, most made of a silicified slate.

It should be noted that a low area near the western edge of the thermocirque proved to be the most interesting and rich area of the site (fig 1). Over a half of all the artifacts were collected here, as well as a considerable number of broken animal bones.

The lithics found at the site can generally be described as a pebble industry. Pebble industries are very common in the Siberian Paleolithic, however, this does not mean that we suggest any analogies for the materials discovered at Yana. In general, the Yana industry is a combination of both unifacial and bifacial flaking of silicified slate pebbles as well as artifacts made from quartz crystal. The major tool types include choppers, pointed bifaces (knives and backed knives), side and angle-scrapers, points and chisel-like tools.

Although nearly 300 faunal specimens were collected at the site, only a few were found associated with the artifacts. Among the animal species represented by the bones were reindeer, horse, mammoth, bison, musk ox, polar fox, wolf, and birds.

Four conventional radiocarbon dates have been obtained for the site. Bones for dating had been collected from spots where they were concentrated on the areas of about 0.5 sq.m. Dates were run by Leopold D. Sulerzhitsky at the Institute for Geology, RAS. These dates are in agreement with the AMS date run on the foreshaft and suggest that the site is around 27,000 years old.

We stress that the significance of the Yana/RHS site is that this is the earliest evidence of human occupation north of 71º degrees NL, and the first evidence that humans inhabited the Eastern Siberian Arctic during the last interglacial. Future in-depth research is planned at the site and will no doubt provide additional evidence for the earliest high latitude human adaptation.

Mikhalev, V.M., and E.I. Yeliseyev. Archaeological survey in the Upper Yana River. In Yu.A.Mochanov (Ed.) Archaeological Research in Yakutia. Novosibirsk. Nauka. 1992: 47 -- 64. In Russian

Mochanov, Yu.A. 1977. The Oldest Stages Human Occupation in Northeastern Asia. Novosibirsk. Nauka. 1977. 236pp. In Russian

Scherbakova, N.M. 1980. Archaeological sites on the Yana River. In Yu.A.Mochanov (Ed.) Novoye v arkheologii Yakutii. Yakutsk. Yakutsk State Univ.1980: 62 -- 65. In Russian


Figure 1.


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