The Wolf of Baikal: The "Lokomotiv" Early Neolithic Cemetery in Siberia (Russia). (Research)

Article excerpt

The site and its location

The territory around Lake Baikal features mountains, lowlands and plateaux, and includes the Watersheds of the Angara, Lena, Selenga, Barguzin, Vitim and other rivers. A favourable climate and a wealth of fauna and flora have attracted people since early times, creating a rich archaeological record, particularly for the period of the Holocene climatic optimum (8000-4500 years ago). Over the vast region of Northern Asia, Baikal Siberia is the only area in which several hundreds of burial complexes relating to the later Mesolithic into the Neolithic have been found and investigated. The site described in this article, nicknamed the "Lokomotiv" cemetery, is the largest Neolithic cemetery known from northern Asia, and one of the earliest, being contemporary with many late Mesolithic cemeteries of northern Europe. The burials, covering an area of 50 000 [m.sup.2] are situated on the slope of the left bank of the Angara River at the mouth of the Irkut River, at a distance of c. 70 km from Lake Baikal, in the central part of Irkutsk (Figure 1). The first evidence of ochre-painted graves came to light in 1897, when the base of the hill-slope was being cut during the construction of the Trans-Siberian Railway (Ovchinnikov 1904: 67-71). A succession of professional archaeological excavations has since been carried out by the specialists of Irkutsk State University, Medical University and Museum of Regional Studies: five graves in 1927 (Gerasimov 1955: 416-424); 21 graves in 1946-1959 (Khoroshykh 1966: 84-93; Okladnikov 1974: 35-45); and 59 graves in 1980-1997 (Bazaliiskiy 1998:10-18). In each case, the archaeological excavations were related to a construction project, and consequently the investigations have been carried out on different sites and over small areas, which has had a significant effect on research into the cemetery's topography. All the ancient burials located in the eastern and southern parts of the cemetery were destroyed during the construction of the railway, the local residential districts and underground walkways. It is impossible to estimate the number of the destroyed graves, but it must be measured in hundreds. The archaeological excavations which opened the majority of the known burials were carried out in the city park, created in the second half of the 20th century on a site not used for business purposes. At least fifty graves remain unopened in the park up to the present time. Out of 87 burials investigated, reliable archaeological and anthropological evidence is available from only about 71 graves, 70 of which contained human remains (124 individuals) and one of which held the interment of a wolf.

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Grave goods

The grave goods accompanying the burials were rich and varied and included fishing and hunting tools, domestic artefacts, adornments, sculptures, half-finished products and raw materials. The most numerous objects are shanks of composite fishhooks made of agalmatolite and slate (Figure 2); some burials contain up to 150 of these. The second most abundant category of goods are the incisors of the marmot (Marmota sibirica Radde), which may have been used for decorating clothing and headgear. Arrow-points made of flint and shale are less frequent than the composite fishhook shanks. Some burials have up to 30 of them. Besides the above-mentioned items, the graves also had ground-stone adzes, knives of jade and clay slate, scrapers, pestles, ground flat points of nephrite and slate, various abrasives, compound hafted tools, various points and pick-axes of bone and antler, harpoons, spoons, needle-cases with needles, and a great number of half-finished products. Examples of the raw materials include stone, bone and antler, the jaws of beaver, fox, and small predators as well as canine teeth of bear, wolf, beaver, fox, musk deer and other animals. Ceramics have only been found in three graves. Adornments are represented by numerous pendants made from the grooved fangs of the wild boar and from deer canines, calcite rings, a horn diadem, and beads of pyrophyllite and pearl. …