Early Upper Palaeolithic in the Russian Plain: Streletskayan Flaked Stone Artefacts and Technology

Article excerpt

The artefact assemblages from early Upper Palaeolithic sites in eastern European Russia contain flint tools of more Middle Palaeolithic type. With these artefacts are bifacially thinned triangular forms that may represent the first use of this technology in the area, and perhaps anywhere in Europe.


Early Upper Palaeolithic sites in Eastern Europe show clear cultural variations that allow us to indentify a series of archaeological cultures. The Kostenki-Streletskaya (Streletskayan) is of particular interest. It was originally distinguished by A.N. Rogachev (1957) on the materials from the Kostenki-Borshchevo region. It was not long before this material became well-known beyond Russia (e.g. Klein 1969, Kozlowski J., Kozlowski S. 1975; McBurney 1976). In the 1970s-'80s one of Rogachev's students, M.V. Anikovich, continued to investigate this archaeological culture using new methods and techniques (Anikovich 1977; 1992; Rogachev & Anikovich 1984). The following is a summary of what the authors currently know about the Kostenki-Streletskaya archaeological culture with a focus on bifacial technology of the flaked stone assemblages.

Geographical distribution

The known Streletskayan sites are concentrated in the Kostenki-Borshchevo area of the Middle Don Region (Figure 1): Kostenki 1, Layer V; Kostenki 6 (or Streletskaya 2); Kostenki 11, Layer V; and Kostenki 12, Layers Ia and III (Figure 2). Other Streletskayan sites are Sungir in the Klyazma Basin (Bader 1978), Biryuchya Balka on the Lower Severski Donets (Matyukhine 1990; 1994), and Garchi 1 on the Lower Kama, in the Ural Region (Guslitzer & Pavlov 1993).


Streletskayan chronology is based on the sequence of Upper Palaeolithic sites in the Kostenki-Borshchevo region (Figure 3), dated by the stratigraphy of loessic colluvium containing humic beds and, in some places, in situ buried soils. On a second Pleistocene terrace, humic beds overlie the upper alluvial complex, and are subdivided by loessic colluvium and volcanic ash lens (Hoffecker 1987: 274). Streletskayan sites are included in both Lower and Upper humic beds.

Until recently, both humic beds were thought to have been derived from a soil of Bryansk age, usually correlated with Stillfried B, Denekamp, Arcy etc. (Klein 1969: 48). New data shows the geological age of the Lower humic bed must be earlier: no younger than the Hengelo-Podradem oscillation (Anikovich 1993: 13). Analysis of a Kostenki volcanic ash showed it is of Italian origin and most likely related to catastrophic eruptions in the region of the Flegrey Fields no later than 35,000 b.p. (Medekestsev et al. 1984). This indicates that the earliest Streletskayan sites (Kostenki 12, Level III and Kostenki 6) are older than 35,000 b.p. Streletskayan assemblages identified in the bottom of the Upper humic bed (Kostenki 1, Layer V; Kostenki 11, Layer V; and Kostenki 12, Layer Ia) are dated to the very beginning of the Bryansk interstadial. In particular, this is shown by radiocarbon determinations (Table 1).


Sungir is the youngest known site of the Kostenki-Streletskaya culture with its cultural layer associated with the upper part of the Bryansk buried soil. The geological ages of Biryuchya Balka and Garchi 1 are as yet unknown, and radiocarbon dates are absent.

Cultural stages and tool typology

Chronology and some flaked stone typological traits of the Streletskayan industries allow us to identify four stages in the development of the Kostenki-Streletskaya archaeological culture.

Stage 1 is represented by two sites in the Kostenki-Borshchevo region, Kostenki 12, Layer III and Kostenki 6 (or Streletskaya 2), both in the Lower Humic bed. Materials from Kostenki 12, Layer III are most characteristic. The assemblage is extremely archaic in both technology and typology. Blades are nearly absent: only three tools are made on large blades or blade-flakes; the rest are on tabular fragments and flakes. …