The Gorny Altai Research Station "Denisova Peshchera" ("Cave of Denis") of the Institute of Archeology and Ethnography (Russian Academy of Sciences, Siberian Branch, Novosibirsk), was the venue of an international symposium on the subject: "Settlement of Central, Northern, and Eastern Asia by Primitive Man: Archeological, Paleoecological, and Anthropological Aspects" in August 2005, in which experts from 15 countries took part. There was a definite purpose for this representative forum to be held there: Russian scientists discovered unique camping sites of primitive man at Gorny Altai. A major contribution to the study of these sites was made by Academician Anatoly Derevyanko interviewed by E. Sadykova for the Nauka v Sibiri (Science in Siberia) newspaper. Here the gist of this interview.
Research works on the territory of Gorny Altai have been carried out for as long as 20 years. At present 10 open and 7 cave sites are being investigated. Fourteen-meter thick deposits contain 20 - 30 layers, each with material evidence on the activity of primitive tribes there. Apart from archeologists, research works likewise involve geologists, geomorphologists, paleopaedologists, paleontologists, anthropologists, paleobotanists, and many other experts from Novosibirsk, Moscow, and St. Petersburg. A comprehensive approach and the knowledge base of relevant disciplines allows to obtain full information on changes of the climate, flora and fauna in prehistoric times, on man-nature interaction, and learn if primitive people were hunters, and if they were, what kind of animals they hunted, and many other things.
Most of modern scientists conclude: two million years ago our distant ancestors began to move from Africa northwards, as evidenced by the location of early sites in Southeast and East Asia, and by an interesting discovery of Georgian colleagues at Dmanisi. Digging near this town, they found five skulls of primitive man and his tools, some of which date to 1.8 - 1.6 mn years ago. About 800 thousand years ago the first wave of settlers reached Southern Siberia. A site discovered 3 years ago in the valley of the Anui river, 14 km away from the above-mentioned "Cave of Denis", dates to this very period (perhaps even earlier).
It is worth mentioning that for the last million years there were at least four climatic coolings on the Earth. But the territory of Gorny Altai with its low and middle mountains turned to be quite suitable for human habitation: in certain periods the temperature there was 6 - 8°C warmer than now, there were caves for shelter as well as animals and plants for food, and materials to make clothes and tools from. Most probably this territory was inhabited by a small group of colonists, and cooling with the advent of climate they moved to warmer lands or else died out. And then this territory became desolate for a long time.
The next migration wave reached southern Siberia about 300 thousand years ago. But this time people settled there for a long time: the main local findings date to a wide range of periods-from 300,000 to 12,000 years. And the remarkable fact is that all through that period the cultural level of the tribes living on these territories was found to be surprisingly high indeed.
By the way, the passage of our ancestors to the Upper Paleolithic (culture of modern-type man) is one of the most difficult problems of contemporary archeology
Articles made of bone and stone found in the horizon dated to 48 thousand years ago.
which has been actively discussed in the literature for more than 30 years. In its most complete form this process (50,000 - 40,000 years B.C.) was observed in the Middle East, even though there still remain many enigmas for archeology, anthropology, geology, stratigraphy, and the like. It took place simultaneously (and maybe earlier) in Altai - here scientists found evidence of human activity in the Upper (Late) Paleolithic. First of all, these are new tools (cutters, scrapers, etc.) and materials (in particular, bone), if compared with the previous evolutionary stages. So, in one of the Altai horizons scientists found seven bone needles dated 48 thousand years (and only two needles in France are "younger" - 32 thousand years). And what is most amazing, the recent finds include pendants made of bone, ivory and mother-of-pearl, and a half bracelet of high workmanship, adorned with apertures.
Members of the symposium visited open mines and saw with their own eyes: the earliest transition to the Late Paleolithic took place in Southern Siberia. And some researchers even supported the hypothesis of our geologists: one of the local sites dates to more than 800 thousand years ago. At the present time they are adjusting the age of the layers and findings under study. Our guests were amazed at the scope and accuracy of the work done, at its comprehensive scale. No work like that has ever been carried out elsewhere in the world.
Further plans of Academician Anatoly Derevyanko include field works in Iran. The thing is that moving to higher latitudes ancient populations encountered an insuperable physical obstacle - the Himalayas and Tibet - and split into two migration waves. One moved to South, Southeast, and East Asia, and the other trekked to Central Asia and southern Siberia just through Iran. Archeologists of many countries are digging there, though mostly in southwestern and southern districts. According to Acad. Derevyanko, the earliest sites should be searched for in the northern, northeastern, and northwestern parts of Iran. Presently Russian scientists are negotiating the forthcoming excavations with the Iranian Academy of Sciences and Institute of Cultural Heritage, and hope to prove they are correct in their conjecture.
Nauka v Sibiri (Science in Siberia) newspaper, No. 35, 2005
Prepared by Olga BAZANOVA
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