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

The Kola Oleny ostrov burial site studies (1924-2005).

O.G. Verbin

The Local  Historical museum of the Polyarny city, Murmansk region, Polyarny, Murmansk region




New evidence of ancient human presence in the area became available as a result of intensive development of the Kola peninsula natural resources in the 1920. Most of the finds were accidental discoveries made by the geologists, geographers and zoologists' expeditions. The ancient burial site on the Bolshoy Oleny Island in the Kola bay of the Barents Sea, three km off Alexandrovka (Polyarny), Murmansk region was discovered in the same way.

In the course of the study of the Bolshoy Oleny Island avifauna in 1924 the researchers from the Murmansk biological station discovered a destroyed interment. [Kreps, Spassky, 1926. P. 52].

In 1928 a research fellow of MAE USSR AS (Kunstkamera) A. V. Schmidt headed a paleo-ethnographic team within the anthropologo-ethnographic group of the USSR AS Kola Expedition. The team focused on the study of this ancient burial site.

Excavations on the Bolshoy Oleny Island were performed in 1928. 11 interments were studied. These were the first excavations by a professional Russian archaeologist in the Murmansk land. According to A. V. Schmidt the burial could be dated as the "late Arctic Neolithic directly succeeded by a culture with iron industry". [Schmidt, 1930. P. 129, 131].

After World War II the archaeologists could continue their studies of the Kola peninsula. Exploration of the north-west part of the Barents Sea coast was planned for the summer of 1947, the program of works included the study of the Kola Oleny Ostrov burial site (KOB). The new Kola archaeological expedition (KAE LBIA ASci USSR) was headed by N.N. Gurina. In 1947-1948 10 interments were excavated in the KOB.

In later years N. N. Gurina maintained her position as the KAE LBIA ASci USSR supervisor, however there were no further attempts to continue the study of the unique burial site of the Early Metal period (c. 3,500 y.a.), the unique of its kind in the Eurasian Arctic site with such a good preservation of the anthropological material.

In 1997 a Municipal History Museum of Polyarny community was established. The museum staff considered the possibility of resuming the KOB studies.

In 1999 the head of KAE IHMC RAS V. Ya. Shumkin visited the site.     It turned out that the study of the burial site was incomplete. [Shumkin, 2001. P. 6].

Annual expeditions to the B. Oleny Island were organized in 2001-2005. 19 individual and common graves were studied.  Owing to the modern scientific excavation techniques, involvement in the field work of the anthropologists (V.I. Khartanevich, S. V. Vasiljev, S. V. Borutskaya), the limnologists (A. Ludikova, T. Sapelko, D.A.  Subetto) and the subsequent analysis of the materials a significant amount of new data was obtained about the grave structures of the ancient Oleny Island population, their anthropological type, diseases, diet, etc. [Shumkin, P. 177-188]. 

The work on the burial site is still in progress.



            Kreps G., Spassky N. Essays on vegetation on the Bolshoy Oleny island in the Kola Bay // Murmansk Biological Station Papers. – Murmansk, 1926. – Vol. 2.

            Schmidt A.V. Ancient burial site in the Kola bay // Kola papers. Papers of the anthropologo-ethnographic team of the Kola expedition. – L.: Izdatelstvo Akademii Nauk, 1930. – P. 119-169.

            Shumkin V.Ya. Kola Oleny island burial site of the Early Metal period in the Murmansk region) // Problems of prehistory and early middle ages studies in the forest zone of eastern Europe. Ivanovo: 2015. – Ed. IV. – P.177-188.

            Shumkin V.Ya. Report on the archaeological study of the Barents Sea Kola Bay sites (The Kola district of the Murmansk region RF). St. Petersburg, 2001 / Archive GIKMP, ОF 4639 PID.


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