International Scientific Conference "Archeology of the Arctic"
November 19-23, 2017

On the role of wood in the economy of the ancient population of the lower Ob (on the materials of Gorny Samotnel I settlement).

D.S. Tupakhin

Arctic Research Center, Salekhard




The remains of wood in the form of various structures, as well as household items and tools, coals, etc., discovered in the course of archaeological studies are a valuable source of historical and paleo-ecological information. The northern sites are of a particular interest in this respect, as owing to the specific conditions of the cultural level formation  such finds were often much better preserved than in the more southern regions. The presence in the archaeological sites of wood and wooden artifacts made from the tree species which did not grow in that particular area is an evidence of the ecological genesis of landscape transformation (shift on the natural zones boundaries), and the information about the economic use of certain types of wood may assist in better understanding the specifics of the economy and life-style of the ancient population.   The purpose of our work was the understanding of the role and place of  arboreal plants in the life and the economy of the Neolithic population in the Lower Ob region (on the materials of the ancient fishermen's settlement Gorny Samotnjol-1).

In the course of Gorny Samotnjol-1 excavations in 2010-14 we have discovered numerous fragments of wooden living structures. Their study demonstrated that in the Eneolithic the region's climate was somewhat different from the modern. The forest-tundra boundary at that time was 200-300 km further north, and the tree species which grew in the territory of the site were more characteristic for the northern taiga forests. [Tupakhin, Tupakhina, 2013]. It is interesting to note that for the construction of the houses the people used as the main support elements rather massive pillars made from Siberian larch tree (Larix Sibirica). We have also identified parts of the birch branches (Betula verrucosa).

Larch tree logs were used as main bearing structural elements of the houses, they were, apparently after some preliminary treatment, dug into the earth. For jointing of the elements the straight dovetail joints were used, which was recorded by the finds on two pillars. The length of the preserved pillars was over one meter. On the basis of a dendrochronological study of the fragments performed in the Institute of Plant and Animal Ecology, UB RAS  by R.M. Khantemirov the structures'   age was established as 5,380 y.a. [Khantemirov, 2014]. In the course of excavations we managed to record some technological aspects of the house roof structure. A section of the roof extracted in the course of excavations was a 770 x 550 mm fragment of the structure, its maximum width was 360 mm.

The roof section was represented with a multilayer construction where the first layer was a birch bark lining, over it a grass bedding overlaid with narrow, 50-70 mm thick ceiling blocks. On top of this was a layer of branches covered with at least two layers of birch bark lining.  It should be noted that the wooden blocks and, in particular the mats in the form of sewn together large birch bark panels were also recorded at the level of the structures' floor. 

Wood was one of the main materials not only for the construction of the houses, but also an important resource both for fishing and hunting. Net fishing on a large river, which was the main occupation of the population of the settlement, would not have been possible without the use of boats, log canoes. kaldankas, or other floating crafts. Net fishing implied the use of a whole set of wooden tools, as well as birch bark floats, or composite net sinkers represented with mid size pebbles wrapped in birch bark. As to the hunting tools - from the ethnographic parallels we may assume that the population used all kinds of traps. There is also no doubt that the ancient population hunted with bows and arrows, an evidence of which was the presence in the assemblage of a significant number of arrowheads.

In addition, the wood was the main source of fuel used for heating the houses, cooking and preservation of food, as well as in production processes including ceramic pots baking, skins dressing, etc.

In summary we may state that wood was a universal production resource for the Eneolithic population of the Lower Ob region. Its availability in sufficient quantities was one of the critical factors of the chosen adaptation strategy implying long-term residence in one place. Degradation of the forests and the shift of the northern forests boundary in later periods were among the causes of the later migrations of the population.



Tupakhina O.S., Tupakhin D.S. Microbiomorphic analysis of soil from Gorny Samotnjol-1 settlement // "Archeology of the North of Russia: from the Iron Age to the Russian Empire". – Ekaterinburg, Surgut Magellan Press, 2013. – PP. 306-308.

R.M. Khantemirov. Report on dendrochronological dating of samples from Gorny Samotnjol-1 settlement)// Institute of Plant and Animal Ecology, UB RAS, Ekaterinburg, 2014.

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