Chronology of the Perishables: First AMS [sup.14]C Dates of Wooden Artefacts from Aeneolithic-Bronze Age Waterlogged Sites in the Trans-Urals, Russia

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Waterlogged sites are extremely important for archaeologists and palaeoecologists because they contain unique records of human occupation and corresponding environmental conditions. In Russia, waterlogged peat bogs (referred to as moors, see Chairkina 2010a & b) are situated mainly in the northern and central Russian Plain and the Urals (e.g. Dolukhanov & Miklyayev 1986; Oshibkina 1989); they are particularly numerous in the Trans-Urals in eastern Russia. Among the latter, several sites such as the famous Shigirsky (or Shigir) and Gorbunovo peat bogs (Figure 1) contained a plethora of artefacts made from perishable materials (Coles & Coles 1989: 147-48; Chairkina 2010a). Examples include wooden boats (none of which have survived in museum collections) and paddles; parts of bows, arrow shafts and tips; daggers; spoons and vessels; fish spears and hooks; floats; skis and sleighs; and birch-bark bags. Also found were remains of wooden track-like and dwelling-like constructions, and numerous art objects carved from wood. Carvings include elk heads; ducks and other birds; spoons and ladles with handles in the shape of waterfowl heads; and human figurines ('idols'). A large number of bone tools, including harpoons, fish spears, arrowheads, knives, spears, chisels, hoes and shovels, have also been discovered.

Unfortunately, early investigations of waterlogged sites in the Trans-Urals during the late nineteeth-early-middle twentieth centuries did not establish the dates of the artefacts, and direct radiocarbon dating is now required (e.g. Stevens & Fuller 2012: 710-16). Until recently, the only directly dated wooden object from the waterlogged prehistoric complexes in the Trans-Urals was the so-called 'Big Shigirsky Idol' recovered from Shigirsky peat bog more than a century ago (e.g. Chairkina 2010a: 87). The forested part of the Trans-Urals with waterlogged sites also appeared to be beyond the scope of recent summary volumes on Bronze and Iron Age archaeology of the region (Anthony 2007; Koryakova & Epimakhov 2007), and its prehistory is hardly known to the international scholarly community. To address this need, an AMS [sup.14]C dating programme was initiated in 2009 by N.M. Chairkina and Y.V. Kuzmin. Here we present our first results and discuss their implications.

A brief history of research on the waterlogged sites in the Trans-Urals

Archaeological research in the Trans-Urals began in the late 1870s, when the area was subject to mining. The first comprehensive report on prehistoric sites was published by Tolmachev (1914). Two main waterlogged site clusters were identified at Shigirsky and Gorbunovo, the former proving especially rich in perishable artefacts. Both sites were later briefly mentioned by Childe (1935:153). After the gap caused by social unrest in Russia in the mid 1910s-early 1920s, excavations resumed and the results generated during the 1920s-early 1950s were summarised by Raushenbach (1956). Persistent problems with excavations conducted prior to the 1970s included poor recording and stratigraphic control, due to the fact that archaeologists acquired most of their artefacts long after large industrial pits had been opened up for the extraction of gold from placer deposits that were located beneath the layers of peat. As a result, it was not possible to work out the cultural chronology of the Mesolithic-Early Bronze Age complexes in the region. In the 1970s-1990s, surveys and excavations were carried out by Starkov (1981) and Serikov (1984) at the Gorbunovo peat bog, and this allowed recovery of perishable artefacts from secure stratigraphic contexts. Serikov (1992) also discovered and excavated the waterlogged Koksharovsko-Yurinskaya site cluster in the Lake Yurino region (Figure 1). The most recent field campaigns were undertaken by the leading author of this paper in the late 1990s-early 2000s, in collaboration with other colleagues (see Chairkina 2010a & c). …