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For several years now that a team of archeologists from the Institute of Archeology and Ethnography of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences has been studying the Priamurye (near Amur River) region in the Far East. It is headed by V. Medvedev, Dr. Sc. (Hist.), and has on its record quite a number of new finds. On the Gasya cliff near the village of Sakachi- Alyan, for example, the scientists uncovered bits of ceramics some 13 thousand years of age-the earliest such find within Russia and one of the oldest in the world. On the Suchu Island in the lower reaches of the Amur the team stumbled upon some true masterpieces of primitive art: zoo- and anthropomorphous clay and stone pieces of sculpture which have preserved in the sandy soil of the local neolithic settlements for over 4-6 thousand years.
It should be pointed out here that the Suchu Island with its many traces of ancient dwellings, religious structures and a whole system of fortifications, including a network of deep trenches and bulwarks, stands out in more than one way from among the monuments of the latter part of the Stone Age within this vast region. This was confirmed again by the results of the excavations of 1999.
One of the dwellings (No. 84) is located on the topmost platform of the island, some 38 meters above the Amur level. It has long been attracting the attention of archeologists with its rather impressive dimensions (a circular structure more than 15 meters in diameter). In former times this must have been a deep dugout, or mud hut, topped with a cone-shaped roof. The artifacts found there have a lot to tell us about the mode of life of its ancient dwellers and include hunting and fishing gear, implements for the gathering and processing of food, and tools used in the making of stone, wooden and bone articles, clothing and footwear, and also clay utensils.
The excavations revealed that the dwelling had two tiers, or floors - the lower (ground floor) and the upper one. On the lower floor - a platform of bluish-grey clay measuring 5 x 5.5 m - archeologists stumbled upon some bits and pieces of a wooden structure, consumed by fire. It was located next to an oval dip of a fireplace, filled with coal and ash and stretching along the edges of the dwelling.
The whole structure looks very much like a system of smoke vents, or ducts made of boards and poles and held together by clay. Preserved in some places are rows of charred planks of up to one meter long. They were covered with a layer of brownish fired clay which sheltered the timber from the stream of hot air emerging from the fireplace through the smoke ducts. The structure must have occupied a considerable part of the floor space since pieces of charred timber, coals and piles of specially prepared clay are scattered all over the place.
In this way the archeologists discovered a peculiar "home" heating system of what they call the "kana" type. The earliest such systems are known from excavations of dwellings of the early Iron Age (approximately at the turn of this era) found in the south of the Primorye Region and on the Korea Peninsula. Such heating systems were also used by certain populations in Central Asia, and in the Middle Ages - also along the Lower Volga and in Central Asia. But this kind of heating systems, which were even regarded as the most ancient ones, chronologically remain within the confines of our era with but a few exceptions. A series of radiocarbon datings puts the age of the Suchu structures at some 3620-3825 years ago. This is the time of the existence of what we call the "Voznesenovsky" late neolithic culture in the lower reaches of the Amur, as proved also by the material finds located within the dwelling, including the ground along the fireplace. On the strength of this evidence Dr. V. Medvedev concludes that the Amur neolithic heating system is no less than 1.5 thousand years older than all other systems of this kind.
He also points out that the earliest studied "kanas", made of stones or slabs, were located as a rule along the walls of a dwelling and were used as a kind of heated beds by the residents. By the design of their smoke ducts they were of the earthen type so-called. But the Suchu find is essentially different. First, it was not used for the heating of the edged stove-couches, but of the whole floor (there are reasons to believe that the "heated" floors on the Suchu Island are the earliest known today). Secondly, the Amur heating system is made of boards clad in clay. And wood, of course, is certainly not the best choice for smoke ducts. Indeed, these ducts lasted only until they caught fire. In Dr. V. Medvedev's opinion, the ancient dwellers on the island could have been the first who tried to use wood-though without much success-for their floor- heating systems.
Nauka v Sibiri (Science in Siberia), 2000
Prepared by Rusanna DOLGIKH
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