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

The White Sea islands: ancient colonization stages.

A. Ya. Martynov

Solovetsky state historical, architectural and natural museum-park, township Solovetsky




The Polar White Sea islands are located mostly in its south-western part (the Onega Gulf), along the western - the Karelian - coast, and in the Kandalaksha Gulf. Their total number is at least 900. The absolute majority have an area up to 1 sq. km. the largest ones are the B. Solovetsky, the Anzersk, the B. Muksalma (Solovki) Islands, as well as the Morzhvets, the Veliky, the Mudjug, the Myagostrov, the Oleny, and the Kuzova islands.

The history of the ancient colonization of the White Sea islands study is rather long [Vinogradov, 1927], however the main volume of information about its stages was obtained by the archaeologists only within the past 40 years [Kuratov, 1983. P. 199-204; Kuratov, Ovsyannikov, 1990. P. 44-46; Lobanova, 2003. P. 103-110; Martynov, 2010, 2013].

The archaeologists have discovered and studied 80 prehistoric settlements and occupation sites in the islands, as well as over 2,300 artificial stone beds (the labyrinths, pyramids - "seidys", piles, menhirs, "symbolic stone beds", etc.) of the later periods [Kosmenko, 2007. P. 110-112; Martynov, 2013]. Settlements and occupation sites were found on 13 large islands (the Anzersk, the B. Zayatsky, the M.  Zayatsky, the Muksalma, the B. Solovetsky, the Zhizhgin, the Lyasomin, the  Morzhvets, the Nemetsky and the Russiky Kuzova, the Nikolsky, and the Solombal), the stone beds were recorded on 40 islands of varying sizes. The total area of the settlements was approaching 50,000 sq. m., the excavated - 2,800 sq.m. The researchers' interpretations of the sites was also based on the artifacts' assemblages (over 45,000 items, including about 38,000 from the Solovki sites), and 40 radiocarbon dates obtained mostly for the sites of the  Solovetsky Archipelago.

According to the Karelian radiocarbon dates scale [Kosmenko, 2003. P. 31-32] ancient colonization of the White Sea islands started in the final Mesolithic (sites Muksalma 3 - 6,785±80 BP, Solovetsky 4 - 6,460±70 BP, and, tentatively, Solovetsky 21 - 7,600±200 BP). The sites' assemblages consisted of quartz tools (a wide blade axe, scrapers on bladed flakes, side scrapers, knives) and cross-cut-inserts similar to the tools of this category from some sites of the western White Sea coast. Fire pits were discovered on all settlement sites. Owing to the absence of synchronous sites in other areas of the coast, the similarities in the goods and the sites' topography in northern Karelia suggested that the "western" route for the Solovki colonization was the oldest and the longest in existence.

The White Sea islands Neolithic was represented with the materials from the Solovetsky Archipelago sites (Muksalma 6 - 5,900±400 BP with pit ceramic, Anzersk 2 and 8 with comb-pit ceramics, as well as Muksalma 3 - 5,722±80 BP, Muksalma 6 - 5,340±70 ВР, Anzersk 6 - 5300±100 ВР, Solovetsky 15 - 4,750±70 ВР and Muksalma 9 - 4600±100 ВР with comb-pit ceramics, Anzersk 7 - 4,522±150 ВР – all with predominantly quartz tools) and the Kuzova (Nemetsky Kuzov 3 - 5,085±70 ВР, quartz tools). The similarities in the ceramics and the silicious-quartz tools with the mainland sites materials indicated the existence of cultural contacts between the Solovki and the Neolithic sites of the western and southern coasts of the White Sea.

The Early Metal sites were found on the Solovki, the Kuzova, the Zhizhgin, the Lyasomin, the Morzhvets, the Mudjug, and the Nikolsky islands. The artifacts' assemblages from the excavated sites (Anzersk 1,3,6; Muksalma 1,6,8,9,; the Solovetsky 1,2,5,13; the Nem. Kuzov-2, the Russki Kuzov-1, Mudjug 1-5, Zhizhgin 1,2,; locations 1-19 on the  Morzhvets island) consisted of the comb ceramics and the predominantly chert tools. By analogy with the tools assemblages from the mainland sites it may be assumed that the colonization of the islands proceeded from the closest areas of the coast:  the western and the southern (the Summer and the Winter coasts). There were also traces of cultural contacts with the sites of Karelia, the Kola peninsula, the North Dvina basin, the Volga-Oka interfluve, and the Kama region.

The labyrinths and other artificial stone beds were the most difficult for interpretation. There is no unified methodology for their study, all problems related to the  labyrinths and the "sacred places" of the White Sea islands have been discussed solely on a hypothetical level  [Martynov, 2016. P. 92-99; Shumkin, 2016. 99-104 p.]


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