Stone Age Sites at the Gubs River Gorge

A small mountain river Gubs originates on the slopes of the Skalisty Mountnain Ridge on the border between the Republic of Adygeya and the Krasnodar Region. The Gubs River cuts through a canyon that has a lot of rockshelters and small caves. Archaeological studies of the Stone Age sites at the Gubs River Gorge (Borisovskoye Gorge) have been conducted since the middle of the 20th century. In 2006 E.V. Belyaeva discovered the Chygai Rockshelter. This multilayer site contains Eneolithic, Mesolithic and Upper Paleolithic cultural layers. Near the rockshelter she discovered a cave known as Dvoynaya Cave. Excavations in the large (western) part of the cave revealed several cultural layers of the Mesolithic and the Late Upper Paleolithic.

From 2007 onward the Gubs expedition of the Institute has been excavating these sites. A comprehensive study of remains and artifacts has provided data not only on changes in the prehistoric population’s material cultures, but also environmental changes that occurred at the end of the Pleistocene and the early Holocene throughout the period of roughly 8,000 years.

According to the reconstruction, at the close of the glacial period, i.e. 16,000–13,000 years ago, the North Caucasus piedmont areas were covered by dry steppes with open stony landscapes that faded into more humid woody stretches along riverine valleys. Different animals species inhabited the gorge and the plateau (elk, red deer, brown bear, mountain goat, bison, hare), which were hunted by the earliest population. The period between 12,000 and 8,000 years ago is marked by humidification of the climate and the expansion of the areas covered with forest vegetation. The prehistoric population mostly hunted for red deer, wild boar, elk, goat, horse, hare, wolf, fox, bear, gray partridge, and turtle. Besides, prehistoric population gathered grapevine snails, whose shells are found in great quantities in the cultural layers dating to the Mesolithic (11,500–8,500 years ago).

Four settlement waves at the Gubs River Gorge have been recorded between 16,000–14,000 and 8,500 years ago. The newcomers were prehistoric population groups of hunters-gatherers who shared similarities in their material culture but used different hunting equipment. The earliest cultural layer containing finds attributed to the end of the Upper Paleolithic and preliminarily dated to 16,000–14,000 years ago has been examined in the Chygai Rockshelter. This layer is divided by the rockfall horizon that was apparently formed by an earthquake. In the subsequent period this piece of the collapsed rock obstructed entry on the slope side. Remains of stonework built as an extension of this natural blocking stretch have been found at the western rear end of the collapsed rock. The collection of stone tools dating to this period is marked by presence of peculiar humped back points, rectangular microlithic insets and side-scrapers. Bone tools are scarce.

The next stage of settlement at the gorge is reflected in the artifacts from the Upper Paleolithic layer of Dvoynaya Cave dated to approximately 13,000 years ago. At that time various points made of flint bladelets and rectangular and scalene triangle microliths were used as hunting equipment. Other finds are bone points, including ornamented points, fragments of needles and beads made of river mollusk shells. Pine wood fiber has been reported as well.

A distinctive feature of Early Mesolithic stone artifacts is presence of denticulated pieces as well as geometric microliths (segments) used as oblique arrowheads. Prehistoric inhabitants of the site made decorative pendants from animal teeth. The subsequent population that settled at the gorge preferred to use trapezoid transverse flint arrowheads; for hunting they also liked to use bone points, with flint insets fixed in the side slot.

The Gubs expedition has examined the conditions of the drawings of hands made by red pigment on a rock outcrop at the gorge. The drawings were discovered by P.U. Autlev in 1962, but the dating of the drawings is still debated. Samples of the pigment layer have been selected to clarify the origin and the age of the drawings.

E.V. Leonova

Digital Version of the Booklet