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The Oldest Human Traces Have Been Found in the Arctic

 

Next generation reindeer herder on the tundra in northern Russia. Photo: Thomas Nilsen

Scientists of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences (SB RAS) found the oldest traces of Homo sapiens in the Arctic, dated back 40,000 years.

The scientific community has been convinced for a long time that around 12-30 thousand years ago the northern part of Western Siberia was covered by a large glacier. To the south of this glacier used to be an underground basin, reaching heights of 130 meters. Thus, there was a strong belief that it was pointless to look for archaeological sites, dating back to the period of 30-40 thousand years ago, in the north. However, the Scientists of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences (SB RAS) found the oldest traces of Homo sapiens in the Arctic, dated back 40,000 years. This discovery is the result of a study carried out on the animal bones found at the Paleolithic complex in the Lower Ob. The scientists dated the bones with the error margin of about 50 years.

“Under an international research program, which used AMS dating and optical-stimulating luminescence methods, our colleagues from Europe and Russia have managed to prove that there was no cover glaciation in the north of Western Siberia 12-30 thousand years ago. It happened there much earlier, approximately 90-60 thousand years ago to the north of Salekhard. The level of the ice-dammed basin in the Ob Valley did not exceed 60 meters. This is a completely different paleogeographic picture. For 30 years I have been sure that in the north of Western Siberia, there were all conditions for the existence of ancient humans, and now we have an opportunity to try proving it: to find traces of Homo sapiens in the north of the Ob, dating back to the period of 30, 40, 50 thousand years ago,” stated the project’s leader Ivan Zolnikov of the Sobolev Institute of Geology and Mineralogy of the Siberian Branch of the RAS.

Studies were carried out in the lower reaches of the Ob River. In the sediments of this ancient stream was discovered a bone-bearing cultural horizon, stretching for tens of meters.

“The stream existed for 20-40 thousand years. By now it has shifted a few meters down. There are interesting finds that we periodically manage to date back. For example, we have found two deer antlers with traces of processing. From that bone-bearing horizon, we have received a total of 20 dates – between 40 to 20 thousand years ago. It is worth noting that the findings dated back 40,000 years were bone remains (deer antlers) processed by man. Thus, this is the first discovery in the lower reaches of the Ob River, that proves the presence of humans there 40,000 years ago,” Ivan Zolnikov said.

To determine the age of finds, scientists use the method of accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS). This is an ultra-sensitive method of isotopic analysis. It allows to date archaeological finds or geological rocks with high accuracy, study the atmosphere composition and tissues of living organisms from different historical periods.

The study was carried out at the Center for Accelerator Mass Spectrometry of NSU-NSC, established by Novosibirsk State University jointly with the Institute of Archeology and Ethnography of the Siberian Branch of the RAS, the Boreskov Institute of Catalysis of the Siberian Branch of RAS and the Budker Institute of Nuclear Physics of the Siberian Branch of the RAS. This article is based on material from the INP SB RAS press service.

The editorial board of The Arctic Century

 
07.08.2023