Zaraysk Site in the Moscow Region

The Zaraysk site located in the historical center of Zaraysk town is a group of overlapping Upper Paleolithic sites, located close to one another. Out of four sites, Zaraysk A, which contains many layers and is noted for its complex stratigraphy, and which has yielded a lot of finds, including prehistoric art artifacts, is the best studied site. A multi-authored book (2009) is a result of the  research at Zaraysk A conducted between 1999 and 2005. In 2012 excavations were resumed, and main excavation area 4 (270 m2) revealed archaeological artifacts from at least four partially overlying cultural layers, with different spatial patterning and different types of features belonging to 23,000–16,000 years ago. Despite visible differences, artifacts found in all four cultural layers share similarities.

2012 was the first season when excavations in area 4 were carried out outside the living structure of the second cultural layer. The examination of an important structure, which is a semi-subteranean dwelling in pit E, continued, and its spatial relationship with networks of frost cracks was examined. It turned out that, like pits B and D, pit E was, basically, formed naturally; the lower third part of the pit had already been buried, and only the part known as pit E was used to build the structure (a semi-subterranean dwelling). The boundary of the pit was identified based on difference in deposits.

A storage pit and two black carbonized areas, with a small concentration of flint flakes associated with one area, were unearthed in the excavation pit. The black carbonized material was lying directly on the underlying geological layer, where there is evidence of heating and, most likely, it belongs to the earliest cultural layer. On the whole, with increasing distance from the center of the settlement area, occupation geologically associated with brownish (reddish) sandy loam diminished and the number of finds decreased substantially. However, this pattern was not documented for the upper cultural layer associated with the buried soil as finds were distributed evenly there.

The 2006–2011 excavations focused on the study of Paleolithic artifacts at the site known as Zaraysk B, which is located on a nearby promontory north of the promontory where a kremlin (fortress) was located (Zaraysk A). The excavated area is more than 200 m2. This site is interesting because its upper cultural layer is lithologically connected to the upper buried soil. Most finds lie at the bottom of the humic soil horizon. The underlying layers typical for Zaraysk A are not present. The geological stratigraphy of the site is different as well. The results of pollen analysis show that the cultural layer in the buried soil was formed under the conditions of relative warming that set in after the Last Glacial Maximum. A date on burnt bone of 16,520±760 B.P. (GIN-14458а) has been obtained.

The undisturbed cultural layer and structuring of the spatial distribution of finds are important characteristics of the site. Lithic refitting helped the researchers establish spatial links between different artifacts. The spatial distribution of finds demonstrates that this site (single-layer base camp) was occupied during a very limited time span. There is a rare opportunity to examine a specific pattern of prehistoric human activities and identify with a high degree of probability areas where different activities were carried out. Both details of everyday life and some behavioral patterns of ancient inhabitants can therefore be reconstructed.

The lithic assemblage is typical of the Kostenki-Avdeevo Culture; a small set of backed bladelets different from the usual tools of this type at Zaraysk A in terms of raw material, treatment methods and morphological characteristics is of special interest.

The faunal remains are mostly attributed to mammoth; there are isolated bones of wolf, bison, horse and reindeer.

Zaraysk A and Zaraysk B are key sites for understanding the phenomenon of the Kostenki-Avdeevo culture and, more broadly, the cultural phenomenon of the last glacial period known as the Eastern Gravettian. Arising 23,000 years ago, these traditions were maintained during the Last Glacial Maximum and still existed in the Russian Plain at least 16,000 years ago.

Kh.A. Amirkhanov,

S.Yu. Lev

Digital Version of the Booklet