Mesolithic Sites at the Gorbunovsky Peat-Bog in the Trans-Urals

Until recently the Mesolithic in the Trans-Urals has been represented, mostly, by sites located on inorganic soils. The first multilayer Mesolithic site in the Urals, known as the peat-bog site of Beregovaya II, was discovered in 2008; 123 m2 of the site were excavated in 2008–2012. The site was found on the eastern slope of the Urals five kilometers south of Nizhny Tagil; it is located on a rocky promontory of the Gorbunovsky peat-bog shoreline. Five cultural  layers occurring in lacustrine-bog deposits separated by sterile peat and gyttja layers have been recorded. The upper layer yielded scarce finds of the Ayatskaya archaeologi­cal culture of the Eneolithic. The second layer contains ceramics, stone and bone artifacts dating to the Early Neolithic. The three underlying layers date to the Early, the Middle and the Late Mesolithic.

Pollen analysis attributed the Eneolithic layer to the Sub-boreal period, the Early Neolithic layer to the first half of the Atlantic period, the Upper Mesolithic layer to the close of the Boreal period, the Middle Mesolithic layer to the first half of the Boreal period, and the Lower Mesolithic layer to the Pre-Boreal period of the Holocene. More than 50 conventional radiocarbon and AMS-dates have been obtained; these dates place the Neolithic layer around 7,300 B.P., the Upper Mesolithic layer around 8,300–8,000 B.P., the Middle Mesolithic layer around 9,000–8,400 B.P., the Lower Mesolithic layer around 9,800–9,200 B.P.

In 2010 the Early Neolithic layer containing pot shards was identified in the northern part of the excavated area. The soot in the interior side of the shard was used to obtain the date of 7,320±38 B.P.; a similar date (7,325±40 B.P.) was obtained using soot on ano­ther ceramic shard of the same type from the same layer. These are the earliest reliable dates demonstrating appearance of ceramics and the startup of the Neolithic in the Middle Trans-Urals.

In 2012 cultural  layers of the Early, Middle and Later Mesolithic were identified in the peat area of Beregovaya I; 40 m2 were excavated there in 2013. The correlation between the Mesolithic layers of Beregovaya I and Beregovaya II was established; this correlation was confirmed by radiocarbon dating results. Artifacts found are, to a great extent, stylistically similar to the finds from Beregovaya II. Their comparison suggests that the blade technology for producing cutting tools and flint insets developed in parallel to the technology used to make polished wood cutting tools from non siliceous materials throughout the Mesolithic, the analysis also helps trace down the patterns in bone industry development.

In 2013 cultural layers attributed to the Neolithic, Late, Middle and Early Mesolithic were identified in the peat-bog part of the Seryi Kamen site, which had been previously considered to be the main site of the Late Mesolithic. Of interest is a bow fragment made of larch found in the Upper Mesolithic layer.

In 2014 the site known as Beregovaya IXa, which is the first Mesolithic workshop discovered in Trans-Urals that specialized in production of wood cutting tools from an outcrop of boulders, was excavated. The site yielded blanks that were used to reconstruct the process of adze and axe production. Of special interest are blanks for short and long axes with ‘ears’ or pivots typical for Siberia.

Multilayer Mesolithic sites excavated at Gorbunovsky Peat-Bog allow the researchers to assert with confidence that this region was inhabited throughout the Mesolithic and to study how the Mesolithic developed in the Trans-Urals in its relationship with the environment.

M.G. Zhilin,

S.N. Savchenko

Digital Version of the Booklet