The Mesolithic-Neolithic Transition in Ukraine: New Radiocarbon Determinations for the Cemeteries of the Dnieper Rapids Region

By Lillie, Malcolm C. | Antiquity, March 1998 | Go to article overview
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The Mesolithic-Neolithic Transition in Ukraine: New Radiocarbon Determinations for the Cemeteries of the Dnieper Rapids Region


Lillie, Malcolm C., Antiquity


Large Mesolithic and Neolithic cemeteries that span the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition are scarce in Europe. As such, understanding the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition is rarely easy when using the direct evidence from carbon-dating of human remains. A new dating programme for the Ukrainian cemeteries of the Dnieper Rapids region throws up considerable discrepancies between typological seriation as a means to assign burials to the Mesolithic or to the Neolithic and the carbon evidence.

The Dnieper Rapids region [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 1 OMITTED] contains about 20 cemeteries from the Mesolithic and Neolithic periods. Settlement evidence for Mesolithic occupation/activity associated with these large cemeteries is sparse in Ukraine and contrasts markedly with those Mesolithic cemeteries in the Danubian Iron Gates and southern Scandinavia in this respect (cf. Jacobs 1993: 311). The Neolithic cemeteries in the region of the Dnieper Rapids are often very large, with certain sites such as Nikolskoye, Derievka and Vovnigi II containing in excess of 100 interments (137,173,130 individuals respectively). About 200 settlement or camp sites with surface scatters of ceramic and lithic material are attributed to the Dnieper-Donets Neolithic culture (Telegin & Potekhina 1987). In contrast to the conventional European understanding of 'Neolithic' society, such as the major socio-economic transformations associated with the shift from forager-based societies, the Ukrainian term 'Neolithic' is generally used to denote the presence of pottery (cf. Jacobs 1993: 312; Lillie 1996: 137). Although, conversely it has been shown that the early Neolithic cemeteries of Marievka and Vasilyevka V are aceramic, Vovnigi II has only two sherds of Dnieper-Donets pottery in association, and the earliest phase of interment at Yasinovatka is also aceramic (cf. Lillie 1996:136).

Telegin (1968: 175-80) has used the rite of extended burial to characterize the Neolithic Mariupol-type cemeteries. This typological criterion is supplemented by similarities in artefact types, such as pottery and flint, imports from the adjacent Tripolye culture and a limited number of radiocarbon determinations from the Kiev conventional radiocarbon facility (Potekhina & Telegin 1995). These determinations consisted of eight dates obtained from human bone from the cemeteries of Nikolskoye, Yasinovatka and Osipovka (TABLE 1, prefix Ki-), which suggested use between c. 6240-5200 b.p.

Recent research into the development of the Mesolithic and Neolithic cemeteries of the [TABULAR DATA FOR TABLE 1 OMITTED] Dnieper Rapids region of Ukraine has highlighted the inadequacies of chronologies that are constructed primarily from typological considerations, with a limited range of absolute dates used in conjunction (Anthony 1994; Jacobs 1993; 1994; Lillie 1996; Potekhina & Telegin 1995).

In general, the Ukrainian Mesolithic cemeteries are dated to the 11th-9th/8th millennium b.p, whilst the Neolithic cemeteries are placed in the 7th/6th millennia b.p. (cf. Potekhina & Telegin 1995: 823). However, recently six AMS determinations from the Oxford laboratories, obtained on human bone collagen (Lillie 1996), appeared to contradict the conventional dates obtained from the Kiev facility (Potekhina & Telegin 1995). The accelerator dates, somewhat older than the conventional dates, set the genesis of the Neolithic cemeteries of Yasinovatka, Nikolskoye and the previously undated Derievka I up to 500 uncalibrated radiocarbon years earlier.

Radiocarbon dating of human bone from the Vasilyevka III and II cemeteries by Jacobs (1993; 1994) has shown that Vasilyevka III is 'roughly contemporaneous with epi-palaeolithic cultural entities of the Crimea and circum-Caucasus' (cf. Jacobs 1994: 4); Vasilyevka II, previously assigned to the earlier Neolithic stage A-1 of the Mariupol-type cemetery sequence by Telegin (1968: 71; 1982; 1987: 120), is late Mesolithic (cf.

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