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Scientists call Arctic 'blank space' on world archaeology map

Scientists say that 30,000 years ago the level of culture, technologies and hunting skills in the Siberian Arctic was very high

ST. PETERSBURG, June 26. /TASS/. Two archeology expeditions of the Russian Academy of Sciences will continue this year researching Paleolithic discoveries in the Russian Arctic. Head of the Paleolithic Studies at the Academy’s Institute of Material Culture Studies Sergei Vasilyev told TASS the Kola and the Yana expeditions are resuming their many-years’ work in the Arctic zone.

"We continue our two projects on the Kola Peninsula and in the Siberian Arctic," the scientist said. "The Arctic is extremely interesting for scientists - as yet it is a huge blank space on the global archeology map."

Scientists, interested in researching the ancient history of the people in the Arctic, should make use of the modern interest in that region, he said. "Due to the growing interest in the Arctic and to the construction of many facilities, which begins now in that region, archaeologists for sure must participate in that. Archeologists must be there and to do research before construction begins. This is extremely important since the Arctic’s nature and environment are very fragile," the expert said.

The Kola expedition: camps and petroglyphs

The Kola expedition’s research area is vast, the scientist said. Besides the camps scattered across the peninsula, the scientists study petroglyphs there. This expedition works in the Murmansk region since 1928, studying archeology objects from the Mesolithic to the Sami culture - those are camps, settlements, and labyrinths of the Barents Sea’s coast. The expedition also studies preservation archaeology at the locations for further on-ground facilities at the Shtokman field, the Murmansk transport hub and at other sites.

One of the recent discoveries of the Kola expedition is a settlement of ancient Europeans, dated III-II millennium BC, which is 40 kilometers off the Teriberka village - near the Kildin Strait of the Barents Sea. Researchers say the settlers could hunt for sea mammals - seals and whales - and had come to there from Norway, to where their ancestors had come from Western Europe.

Over the recent decade, archeologists found ashore of the Kildin Strait a complex of archeological monuments, including three neighboring early-Mesolithic camps and more than a hundred other objects, dated middle of the VIII millennium BC. Currently, those are the earliest objects in Russia’s European north, which are related to the post ice age.

Petroglyphs: more than paintings

This year, scientists will also continue studies of the rock carving of Northern Fennoscandia - the petroglyphs. Those rock carvings are dated mostly the V-II millenniums BC. Scientists suppose the authors were sea and land hunters and gatherers, they made pictures of animals and humans, as well as scenes of sea or land hunting. The Institute’s scientists say those rock drawings, which modern people consider arts, were different and much more important messages for the ancient people, and some of the carvings remain unexplained as modern people are unable to understand them.

In the ancient times, petroglyphs were seen clearly on the rocks around Kanozero - archeologists say the drawings could have been restored and re-painted, but nowadays seeing the carving is highly problematic. It is difficult to differentiate the images from the rock, cracks and natural pits and caverns, and, in order to examine them, scientists use mirrors during the daylight and flashlights at night. They make copies by hand or take pictures trying to use the best angle of the Sun above the horizon. As of 2013, the researchers registered 1,250 carved figures. A museum of rock art, which is responsible for maintaining this historic heritage, opened there in 2008.

Russia is rich in mammoths

The Yana camp is the world’s northernmost center of Paleolithic objects. It is located in the part of the Arctic, which keeps many traces of the mammoth. "Nowhere else in the world there is such a treasure of the fossil mammoth fauna like in the Russian Siberian Arctic," the scientist said. "This is the only place where it remains in those big quantities."

The unique "mammoth heritage" also has a reverse, sorrowful, side, he continued: the illegal diggers, hunting for mammoth tusks, are quite many there. The Institute’s experts say, over the past decade, the illegal diggers and vandals had ruined in the Siberian Arctic seven "mammoth cemeteries" - big archeological objects, which contained bones of those animals.

"As for the "mammoth cemeteries," it is all disgrace and barbarism," he added. "This sphere is not regulated, it requires saving, or we may lose opportunities for its studies."

The vandalism, those hunters are doing, is in the way of studies into the ancient history of the Siberian Arctic, and the risks, which the diggers provide by dissolving the soil and permafrost using high-pressure pumps, are the main hazards for the archeology research. One of the archeology objects, which was ruined by the vandals, is the Bunge-Toll camp, one of the ancient monuments of humans’ conquering the Arctic. Experts date it about 50 millenniums back.

The ancientmost camps in the Arctic

The digging in the Siberian Arctic continues since the 1960s - when the Berelekh "mammoth cemetery" and the Berelekh camp of late-Paleolithic time was found on the left tributary of the Indigirka River. For a long time, that object remained the only evidence of the human’s settlement in high latitudes, which was earlier believed to be about 13,000 years ago.

In 1989-1990, archeologists began digging the Zhokhov camp (the New Siberian Islands) - a northernmost archeology object in the world and the most ancient trace of human in high latitudes, which proves humans conquered those territories about 8,000 years ago. In 2001, in the northwestern part of the Yana-Indigirka Lowland scientists opened the Yana camp - a unique object of the world cultural heritage, a complex of objects dated 28.5-27 thousand years ago. It is the oldest camp of upper Paleolithic period in Eurasia’s Arctic zone, objects from which are dated between 45,000 years ago to about 19,000 years ago.

Addressing earlier guesses

The Institute’s scientists say results of the recent research give reasons to doubt the earlier version that people had to abandon territory of the Siberian Arctic as unfavorable conditions of the ice period were spreading there. Archaeologists have proven that the Siberian Arctic remained acceptable for people’s living even in the epoch of the recent ice maximum - about 21,000 years ago. They say the earlier guesses about the "de-population" of Siberia must be revised and verified now.

Archeologists say the discoveries of 2016 prove that 30,000 years ago the level of culture, technologies and hunting skills in the Siberian Arctic was very high.