All too few relics have come down to us from the Upper Paleolithic (Stone) Age. But one unique find has been recovered on the edge of the Russian town of Vladimir, namely at Sungir, on the site of the Paleolithic man's encampment. This place has gained worldwide fame for its rich dig: the intact skeletons of an adult male, two adolescents as well as the bone fragments of yet another six humans were dug up there. Archeologists have been studying Sungir for well over 40 years. Many publications are devoted to it, among them a new book by a group of authors: "Homo Sungirensis". The Upper Paleolithic Man: Ecological and Evolutionary Aspects of the Study (Moscow, Nauchny Mir Publishers, 2000). In 2002 this work merited a Nikolai Miklukho-Maklai prize awarded by the Russian Academy of Sciences. It is named after the eminent 19th-century Russian traveler, anthropologist, ethnologist and ethnographer.
The Sungir find gives an insight into the various sides of the life of the Upper Paleolithic man. It has become possible to reconstruct his appearance from the morphology of his skull and by DNA assay. In addition, scientists have studied the ecological and evolutionary aspects of the homo's body anatomy, the anomalies and indicators of physiological stress, the man's dietary habits, his survival strategy, his settlement problems, and his adaptation to new ecological niches. Another aspect of this research concerned the way the ambient world was reflected in the mind of that prehistoric man.
The scope of this article is too small to cover all the implications of this unique find. Therefore I would rather confine myself to the characteristics of the anthropological look of Homo sungirensis and his taxonomic rank among the other Upper Paleolithic humans known to date.
The Sungir camp was opened in 1955 in a brickyard's clay quarry on the eastern edge of Vladimir, a town lying 192 km east of Moscow. This was the northernmost encampment of prehistoric man on the Great Russian Plain; its site was on the left bank of the river Klyazma, just where the rivulet Sungir flows into it. The age of this camp and its burial grounds, determined by carbon radiography, dates back to 27210+/-710 - 19160+/-270 years ago. This burial must have been made in the final period of the Upper Paleolithic settlement.
In 1956 Otto Bader, an archeologist, began his inspection of the Sungir grounds. Then Georgi Debets, an anthropologist, joined up. He determined the age of the buried man to be around 55 to 65 years. Apart from the considerable wear of his teeth (with the crowns of only 4 - 5 mm), there were no signs of senile changes neither in his skull (cranium) nor in his bones. Dr. Debets noted the flatness of the thighbone (platymery) and of the shinbone (platicnemy), which was typical of the Cro-Magnon's characteristics.* In body proportions (lower shin bones longer than the thighbone), Homo sungirensis is closely related to the tropical populations, even though such kind of build often occurred in Europe, too, during the Upper Paleolithic.
Dr. Debets found the man's height to be 180 cm, and his weight, judging by the skeleton's volume, 71 kg. He used his own formula that counted in both the length of the bones and their correlations. The relief of the bones (the well-developed neck line and mastoid processes of the skull) showed that Homo sungirensis had good muscles and that he was thickset. The anthropologist noted the overly large dimensions of the cranium's facial part, which was flat, and the accentuated profile of the skull in the middle, and the nose that did not stood out prominently. The stark contrast between the small size of the nose and the highly prominent nose bridge, the anthropologist explained, was due to the man's individual facial features, something that occurs among Euro-peoids and Mongoloids even today. Dr. Debets did not say anything definite about the homo's racial type; but he believed that a skull like that was proper to the Cro-Magnon type which is thought to embrace all of Europe's Upper Paleolithic humans with the exception of the "Grimaldi Negroids"*.
Subsequently another scientist, Viktor Bunak, made a thorough study of this skull from Sungir. In his opinion, the cranium does not go beyond the Upper Paleolithic variations as far as its morphological characteristics are concerned.
The remains of Upper Paleolithic men found elsewhere in Europe, are rather varied in anthropological terms. Still, I. Hochmann, E. Vlcekand J. Elinek have singled out three cranial types: Cro-Magnon (found in the French communities of Cro-Magnon, Barma Grande and elsewhere) and Brno-Psedmosti (Czechia). V. Bunak, who agrees with such division, also offers a third type, Solutre (France). The Cro-Magnon man is characterized in particular by the longish, broad and low cranial structure, by the middle breadth and the low height of the facial part. The Brno-Psedmosti homo has a high cranium (hypsicrania) of middle breadth-its length is above the middle; the facial part is rather narrow, and it carries a narrow nose. And the third type, the Solutre man, has a short and broad skull, and a relatively broad nose.
Comparing them with the Sungir male skull, Dr. Bunak found them to be similar to the Upper Paleolithic crania of the Chancelade (France) and Psedmosti-3 men. Proceeding from metric and descriptive characters, he also detected common traits with other Upper Paleolithic skulls found in Europe. Having evaluated this evidence, V Bu-
* Cro-Magnon man is one of the earliest examples of Homo sapiens yet found. - Ed.
* The skull from the Grimaldi grotto (France) has prominent facial features (prognathism) characteristic of the equatorial race. - Auth.
nak inferred that the European population of the late Paleolithic was characterized by cranial polymorphism which he attributed to the significant isolated-ness of huntsmen's groups from one another, a factor hampering anthropological type consolidation. Therefore in some characters the late Paleolithic skulls of Europe may bear resemblance to contemporaneous Asian, Australian or African cranial types.
The subsequent studies of Homo sungirensis and other similar finds, carried out by Viktor Bunak and Margarita Gerassimova, confirmed the conjecture about the absence of distinct racial differences within the oikoumene (inhabited world) of that age. Therefore the scientists defined the taxonomic rank of the Sungir man as a "Homo sapiens of the Neo-Pleistocene, East European type".
Academician Valery Alexeyev, who was also involved with the racial diagnostics of the Sungir skull, at first considered certain characteristics (like the very high face; the insignificant prominence of the nasal bones against the facial profile line; the fairly high eye sockets, the flatness of the facial bones) not typical of the European Upper Paleolithic skulls. Yet this complex of cranial characters is also evident in the skulls of the Upper Cave, Zhoukoudian (China) and in the Upper Paleolithic skull of Dundianyang (China). Academician Alexeyev measured the angles of horizontal facial profiles on plaster casts in the custody of the RAS Institute of Geology.
He assessed the previous data, including the repeatedly confirmed hypothesis of G. Debets about the differentiating role of facial and nasal flatness in Europeoids and Mongoloids. Accordingly, he defined the taxonomic rank of Homo sunginerensis as follows: "His Eastern origin is quite probable, given that the Sungir man belonged to some protomorphic populations of the Eastern stem and that some of his ancestors were formed in the Eastern seedplot of race genesis."
Academician Alexeyev cites a piece of indirect evidence arguing in favor of the possibility of people moving far to the West from the Eastern seedplot: namely, a frontal bone fragment found in the deposits of the Afontova gora-2 (mountain) encampment near Krasnoyarsk.
But further studies of the Cranium sungirensis as well as the view on the cranial polymorphism of the Upper Paleolithic population (a view that had gained currency meanwhile) impelled the scientist to revise his standpoint. Making a fresh study of the Sungir skull (its morphology, horizontal profile angles, nose angle, nose bridge height), Academician compared it with the Upper Paleolithic skulls of Eastern Europe and Asia. He found therefore that the Sungir skull is fully within the bounds of European variations. Which means that the Cranium sugnirensis cannot be attributed to the proto-Mongoloid type and thus should be excluded when studying the ancient formative stages of the Mongoloid race.
Now what concerns the time when racial characters proper to present-day man came into being. Two hypotheses were suggested: 1) the basic characters of all large races were already distinct in the men of the Upper Paleolithic Age (among Russian anthropologists, G. Debets was the most consistent proponent of this hypothesis); 2) the races took form only in the post-Paleolithic time (the theory advocated by V Bunak). Academician Alexeyev gave preference to this very theory, noting thereby that the race genesis process unfolded gradually, stage by stage. Said he: within the European area the phenomenon of orthognamism* took form as early as the Middle Paleolithic Age, while the nasal prominence phenomenon occurred but in the Upper Paleolithic. In the Asian region, the spatulate form of the lingual surface of the upper incisors and the flatness of the facial features on the horizontal plane appeared in the Lower Paleolithic Age, and added to all this was nasal flatness in the Upper Paleolithic. In Africa, the Negroid complex traits were pronounced well enough as early as the Upper Paleolithic. Thus, according to Academician Alexeyev, the different rates of race formation processes on different territories are a characteristic feature of the species Homo sapiens.
Now what concerns the taxonomic status of Homo sungirensis. Academician Alexeyev argued that he, the homo, belonged to the Upper Paleolithic population of Europe, though not related in any way to any of the morphological variants, such as Solutre, Psedmosti, Grimaldi.
Thus, for all the different views on the race formative process in human history, the scientists who studied the anthropology of Homo sungirensis agree by and large on his taxonomy: though quite original, it is still within the variations of
* Face profile characterized by mid-level prominence of the facial part of the cranium. - Ed.
the Upper Paleolithic men of Eastern Europe.
The possibility of using multivariate statistical analysis in comparing various finds by a different set of characters has prompted me to return to the matter of the Sungir man's anthropological type and his taxonomy. We have made five mathematical analyses involving the computation of canonical variables and their values. The multistage nature of this study is explained by the different number of dimensionality characters in the available Upper Paleolithic skulls and, consequently, by the different number of skulls that could be included into this or that analytical study.
Aside from the Upper Paleolithic remains in Europe, the skulls of Fish-Hook (Africa) and Zhoukoudian (Asia) were also investigated. Turning to the finds on other continents is justified not only by the need of expanding the range of comparison. As shown by V. Bunak and V. Alexeyev, the absence of distinct racial features in men of the Upper Paleolithic Age and the absence of a clear territorial indication was yet another important consideration.
Many comparative mathematical studies of Homo sungirensis have confirmed his specific appearance. Only one thing is quite clear: the homo is within the range of European forms, though not revealing any special affinity with the East European finds. Mathematical analysis has enabled us to compute the number of coincidences by a set of characters; this number shows the most frequent similarity of the Sungir skull with the skulls of Astern (Chancelade, Com-be-Capelle, Cro-Magnon in France) and Central Europe (Psedmosti).
Our study of canonical variables has confirmed the results of earlier studies that the Sungir skull, though belonging to the range of European forms, is not devoid of certain morphological originality. Ascertaining its position among the other craniological finds in Europe, we might as well add that it shows the highest morphological similarity to the Upper Paleolithic finds of Western Europe.
Our analysis makes it possible not only to locate the skull's place among the other Upper Paleolithic crania but enables us to turn again to the anthropological characteristics of the contemporaneous finds. Regardless of the number of groups and set of characters, the values of canonical variables show a significant number of morphological variants, be it the combination of large cranial dimensions with the narrow and high, or with the narrow and broad facial features, or else with the very large size of the facial part of the cranium. The large cranial dimensions are combined both with the high and with the low cranial vault. In much the same way, the small dimensions of the skull go along with the broad and low face, or with the narrow and high facial features.
The combinations of the size of eye sockets and nose with the facial and brain box dimensions are likewise different. In a nutshell, the Upper Paleolithic humans were obviously polymorphous. But it is pertinent to ask here: is such polymorphism not the result of ordinary intragroup variability as soon as we are dealing with particular individuals?
A study of the combinations of characters peculiar to Upper Paleolithic skulls, involving the use of an intragroup correlation matrix (calculated by anthropologist Svetlana Yefimova in 1991) and correlation matrices of several contemporary craniological series related to different racial types-this study has showed up significant deviations of Upper Paleolithic skulls in what concerns their character linkages. Typical of the present-day man, however, is the presence of positive intragroup linkages of all the longitudinal and transversal cranial parameters.
Maybe the polymorphism of Upper Paleolithic skulls noted by V Bunak and V Alexeyev is indeed the result of the then still incipient racial features characteristic of the present-day man. Furthermore, the violation of intragroup linkages, which we observe in Upper Paleolithic individuals, may be regarded as the manifestation of certain traits characterizing the previous formative stages of the human race and as the yet not sufficient level of harmonization of human skulls in that age.
Now let us return to the dimensionality of individual Upper Paleolithic skulls within the system of canonical variables. First of all, the Fish-Hook skull (Africa) differs from the other skulls. It is remarkable for the very large longitudinal and transverse diameters and low height, for the very low face carrying an overly wide and low nose, and for flatness both in the upper and in the middle parts of the facial structure.
Another conspicuous feature is that the Zhoukoudian skull (China) always correlates with that of Combe-Capelle (France). They differ just in one case only-when one compares not only linear characters but also those related to the nose bridge prominence, the angle of nose prominence and the horizontal profile angles. Although similar in the dimensions of the brain box (case) and facial part, both skulls are different in the essential diagnostic characters segregating representatives of the Europeoid and Mongoloid races: the Chinese skull is noted for the weakly prominent nose and bridge, and it is somewhat flat in the middle of the facial part.
Most of the European finds form a definite community taking in an extensive territory of Astern, Central and Eastern Europe. Certain variants that have no strictly circumscribed areas are identified within this community.
Now, what follows from the anthropological study of the Upper Paleolithic finds? And what is the taxonomic status of Homo sungirensis among them? The skulls of that age are characterized by significant polymorphism manifest in the poorly developed race-related characters and, possibly, in the yet not adequate intelligence level of the Upper Paleolithic man. But we should also point to the nascent geographical centers of morphological combinations: the African and Asian finds (Fish-Hook and Zhoukoudian) stand out for their specific traits: the former clearly reveals signs of Negroidism, while the latter- albeit less distinctly-those of Mongoloidism.
According to their morphological characteristics, the Upper Paleolithic finds are concentrated in a large territory encompassing Western, Central and Eastern Europe. In most of the cases the Europeoid complex is expressed clearly enough, though many skulls are noted for the weakly prominent nose and nose bridge. Considering the manifestation of archaic characters and the insufficient level of skull harmonization, we could speak with some degree of confidence about the still continuing period of Europeoid race formation in the Upper Paleolithic Age.
Insofar as the Sungir skull is concerned, it should certainly be included into the range of European, or rather, West European finds. This skull retains certain specific traits expressed in the large facial features which, in my opinion, could be put down to its idiosyncrasy. Concerning the peculiar combination of upper face flatness and the sharp profile of the middle face, we can say it definitely: such features are well represented in the Upper Paleolithic skulls of Europe, and the Sungir one is no exception in this respect. A molecular-genetic study of the bones buried at Sungir near the Russian town of Vladimir likewise confirmed that Homo sungirensis was part of Europe's Upper Paleolithic population. As shown by this analysis, the type of mitochondrial DNA (what is known as the Cambridge, or Anderson sequence) is in the most widespread group among European variants.
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B Academician Tatyana ALEXEYEVA, Archeology Institute, RAS, HOMO SUNGIRENSTS // New-York: Libmonster (LIBMONSTER.COM). Updated: 14.09.2018. URL: https://libmonster.com/m/articles/view/HOMO-SUNGIRENSTS (date of access: 04.12.2023).
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