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

The early Mesolithic in the Kola peninsula: new discoveries.

Kolpakov E.M., Shumkin V.Ya., Murashkin A.I.

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





            The routes and the time of the initial colonization of  Northern Fennoscandia are among the most actively discussed topics of the Arctic archeology. The archaeological study of Finnmark started in 1925 by A. Nummedahl proved to be very successful [Nummedahl, 1929]. The culmination point in the debates and discussions was the description of some occupation sites on the basis of their location along the ancient seaside terraces and the coarseness of the archaeological material forms as the "Arctic Paleolithic" (the Komsa culture) and their dating as the end of the Pleistocene  [Bøe, Nummedahl, 1936].

            In 1935 and 1937 an expedition headed by a geologist B.F. Zemlyakov explored the Rybachy peninsula in search of the "Arctic Paleolithic" sites in the area. A result was the discovery of 12 "Arctic Paleolithic" and the Neolithic sites, part of which was later reclassified as belonging to the Mesolithic Komsa culture [Zemlyakov, 1940].

            By the mid 1980s the KolaAE LBIA ASci USSR discovered up to 70 Mesolithic sites on the Kola peninsula (Shumkin,1986). In 2014-2016 the KolAE IHMC RAS excavated Mesolithic sites Gusiny 4-7 on the south coast of the Barents Sea Kildin strait. The sites were located on ancient seaside terraces at the elevations from 27-30 to 35 m b.s.l.

The researched area of Gusiny 4, 5, 7 sites was 118, 80 and 42 sq.m. respectively. The materials of the sites were quite similar. In Gusiny 4 site 873 items were found, 963 - in Gusiny 5, and 247 - in Gusiny 7. Main raw materials were chert, silicified sandstone, and quartz. The purpose of knapping was mainly the obtaining of blades. The evidences of this were the two completely depleted prismatic single platform cores and a large series of technical spalls: additional maintenance of  of the cores platform ("tablet"), maintenance of the knapping front, the core base maintenance. Most of the spalls were represented with blades, large number of them retouched: in Gusiny 4 - 103 and 68; in Gusiny 5 - 157 and 98; in Gusiny 7 - 18 and 9. The blades had signs of fracture in the pressure or striking technique with a punch: significant width given a small thickness, parallel edges, slight curvature, a trapezoid cross-cut, the presence of a "lip", facetted long minimal size striking platforms, horizontal and vertical overhang alternation, etc. Other samples with secondary technology were mostly on blades: side scrapers (21), scrapers (4), burins (2), borers (4), points (4), combined (2), and a tanged point (1). A radiocarbon date 7600–7200 BC (SPb-1377) was obtained by a coal from the fire pit in Gusiny 4.

In Gusiny 6 settlement a slightly buried dwelling was studied with a 16 sq.m. excavation. It was 3x3 m sub-rectangular structure. 14,244 quartz (11,974 pieces, 84%), chert (293 pieces, 2%), and silicified sandstone (1,976 pieces, 14%) items were found. The number of scales and flakes were 10,253 и 3,532 respectively. The series of 52 cores was represented with: disk shaped, prismatic, one- and bi-platformed, multiplatformed with situational knapping, and the bi-polar ones. Knapping  was mostly used for blades production. There were 323 secondary technology items, 202 and 12 flakes and retouched blades. Tools: side scrapers (49), scrapers (21), a scratch (1), points (3), borers (5), burins (2), and multipurpose ones (3). Arrowheads were represented with tanged (13), a  lateral blade and a triangle one; with the minimum stem and/or sides working with steep retouch on a dorsal side. The axes (7) made on large flakes, the side edges were finished with steep retouch and striking; a rough flake edge was used as a cutting edge. A radiocarbon date 7700-7040 BC (SPb-2213) was obtained by coal.

The analogues to Gusiny 6 settlement could be found among the sites of northern Norway of the I phase of the Mesolithic; to Gusiny 4, 5, and 7 sites - the sites of the II phase, namely the Suyala occupation sites in northern Finland.

            From the time of A. Nummedahl's work the researchers had no doubts about the initial migration of humans to the Arctic Scandinavia from the territory of  North German plain along the coast of Norway [Olsen, 1994; Woodman, 1999]. The discovery in 2002 of a Mesolithic occupation site Suyala with blade industry 60 km away from the Barents Sea coast and its further excavation (Rankama, Kankanpaa, 2014) allowed the Finnish archaeologists to make a hypothesis of a possible second wave of colonization of this Arctic territory, this time via Finland and using the Karelia route.  This hypothesis requires a serious analysis and confirmation, and the bi-component (flake and blade) nature of the Komsa culture was confirmed already in the end of the past century [Woodman, 1993].


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