Home Sciences They discover the oldest traces of human presence in the Arctic

They discover the oldest traces of human presence in the Arctic

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The presence of modern humans in the Arctic dates back to 40,000 years ago, according to the study of bones found in an archaeological complex located in the Siberian plains. The Ob is one of the great Siberian rivers with traces of the Early Upper Paleolithic culture.

Russian scientists have discovered the oldest traces of the presence of modern humans in the Arctic, dating back to 40,000 years ago (beginning of the Upper Paleolithic).

The discovery was made thanks to the study of animal bones found in the Paleolithic complex of Kushevatlocated in the lower reaches of the Ob River, in the Russian autonomous district of Yamalo-Nenets, in the plains of Western Siberia.

The dates of those bones were determined with an accuracy of up to 50 years in the “Accelerator Mass Spectrometry of NSU-NSC” (TsKP UMS). The work brought together a wide circle of archaeologists, geologists, physicists, among other specialists, according to the SB RA GI Budker Institute of Nuclear Physics, one of the main centers of advanced nuclear physics studies in Russia.

scientific interest

The question of the initial settlement of the Arctic and Sub-Arctic by an ancient human of a modern type (Homo sapiens sapiens) has been of interest to scientists for a long time.

The Ob River valley, the seventh longest river in the world at 5,410 km, is often seen as a possible migration route for Paleolithic peoples.

Modern humans are believed to have arrived in Europe and Asia between 50,000 and 60,000 years ago. But it is unknown where he lived before and how he crossed the Ural Mountains, which form the natural border between Europe and Asia.

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For a long time the hypothesis prevailed that, between 12,000 and 30,000 years ago, the north of Western Siberia was covered by a large glacier (just like North America and Europe). To the south of this glacier was a dammed basin that reached heights of 130 meters.

For this reason, it was believed that there was no point in searching for archaeological sites dating from the period of 30-40 thousand years ago in the north of Western Siberia. This was confirmed by the almost total absence of finds (tools, sites, organic traces).

Long before

However, thanks to the international research program using AMS dating and optically stimulated luminescence, scientists managed to prove that there was no ice sheet in northern Western Siberia 12-30 thousand years ago, but rather a long time. before: between 90,000 and 60,000 years ago.

That means that the level of the ice-dammed basin in the Ob valley did not exceed 60 meters, which gives a completely different paleogeographic picture.

This perspective enabled exploration work in the lower reaches of the Obi and in 2020, in the sediments of an ancient stream near Kushevat, a cultural horizon with bones extending for tens of meters was discovered.

Two deer antlers with traces of processing typical of human activities (anthropological impact) were discovered. In total, 20 dates were obtained from this bone horizon (with an age of 40,000 to 20,000 thousand years ago); at the same time, human-processed bone remains (horns) date back 40 thousand years.

human presence

The researchers consider that this is the first discovery of human presence in the lower reaches of the Obi 40 thousand years ago, which outlines the Obi as one of the last great Siberian rivers where vestiges of the Early Upper Paleolithic culture have been found.

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To determine the age of the finds, the scientists used the method of accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS), a supersensitive method of isotope analysis, in which a careful selection of the atoms of a substance with isotope counts is carried out.

The method involves directly counting the number of carbon-14 atoms in a sample, making it much more sensitive than other methods.

This method makes it possible to date archaeological finds and geological rocks with great precision, to study the composition of the atmosphere and the tissues of living organisms from different historical periods.

Background

Before this discovery, it was already known that humans of the modern anatomical type (Homo sapiens) ended up in Western Siberia at least 45,000 years ago, highlights the magazine N+1.

This was indicated by a femur found in 2008 in the Omsk region. Radiocarbon and paleogenetic analyzes showed that it belonged to a man who died between 46,880 and 43,210 years ago.

Even in the Upper Paleolithic, ancient peoples were also present beyond the Arctic Circle. This became known after the discovery in 2001 of the Yanskaya group of sites, located in Yakutia, where people, judging by radiocarbon dating, lived together approximately 28,500-27,000 years ago, that is, even before the maximum level of the last glaciation.

Reference

New Evidence of the Late Neopleistocene Peopling of the Lower Ob Valley. ID Zolnikov et al. Archaeology, Ethnology & Anthropology of Eurasia, Vol 49, No 1 (2021). DOI:https://doi.org/10.17746/1563-0110.2021.49.1.009-020

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