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

Osteological remains from the Zhokhov camp site: reconstruction of the life-support and the economic cycle of the ancient hunters of the high latitude Arctic (early Holocene, the Novosibirsk island)

V.V. Pitulko, A.K. Kasparov

Institute for the History of Material Culture of RAS, Saint-Petersburg.

(pitulkov@gmail.com; alexkas@yahoo.com)

OSTEOLOGICAL REMAINS FROM THE ZHOKHOV CAMP SITE:
RECONSTRUCTION OF THE LIFE-SUPPORT AND THE ECONOMIC CYCLE
OF THE ANCIENT HUNTERS OF THE HIGH LATITUDE ARCTIC (EARLY HOLOCENE, THE NOVOSIBIRSK ISLANDS)

 

The study was supported by the Russian Research Fund (project № 16-18-10265-RNF).

 

The Zhokhov occupation site located under 76° n.l. in the Siberian Arctic (the Zhokhov and the Novosibirsk islands) is one of the northernmost archaeological sites in the world and also the oldest evidence of the presence of the Stone Age populations in the high latitudes. The excavations of the site were performed by V.V. Pitulko in 1989-90, 2000-2005. The total excavated area amounted to 571 m2, the excavated sections were related to the different in time occupation cycles.

In the course of the study a number of radiocarbon dates for different types of materials were obtained, which was important for the understanding the site's geology and  its living floors chronometry. On the basis of the sample (N=94) analysis it was established that the Zhokhov occupation site was visited by the people within the interval 8,250 – 7,800 14С y.a. The maximum of the humans' activity at the site correlated with the ranges of 8,000-7,900 y.a., or  ~9,000 y.a. in calibrated age values.

The size of collections accumulated in the years of the Zhokhov site study amounted to tens of thousands units, including  54,000 of faunistic remains, 22,000 of that number were identifiable (Table 1). The most numerous species were the reindeer  (NISP=14,614; MNI=245) and the polar bear (NISP=5,915; MNI=130), the dogs' remains were also quite well represented (NISP=151, MNI=13), the latter's morphology suggested the existence of a breed standard close to the present day sledge dogs.

The osteological remains analysis allowed reconstructing the life support strategy of the Zhokhov site inhabitants. This was an original adaptation model of mobile land hunters engaged in hunting the reindeer and the polar bear in 2:1 ratio.

On the basis of the animals' death season estimated by the recording structures it became possible to reconstruct the specifics of the annual economic cycle of the Zhokhov site inhabitants (Fig.1) It was established that the site was a base camp used all year round. The summer activity in the settlement was minimal. On the contrary, the winter period was characterized by a significant increase in harvesting, during those months most of the polar bears were killed. Most of them were average size adult animals, i.e. females.  They were hunted in their lairs. In spring they began harvesting the reindeer. This campaign reached its maximum in autumn. The most important element of the adaptation system of the Zhokhov hunters was the use of sledge dogs.

The Zhokhov hunters' life was made significantly easier by the fact that in that time the territory of the Zhokhov island was connected to the mainland plain and formed its seaside edge. Local conditions were sufficient for supporting small groups of hunters. In addition to the food and raw material resources it also had sufficient volumes of the most valuable in the open territories resource (fuel in the form of driftwood) available along the coastline. The territory of the group in all probability included the large islands of the modern Novosibirsk archipelago - the Novaya Sibir island and, probably, the Fadeevsky and the Kotelny islands.

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