A new Approach to the Exploration of Caves in Altai

A team from the "New Archeology" Scientific and Educational Center, together with geophysicists from the NSU Geological and Geophysics Department, and the Institute of Oil and Gas Geology and Geophysics SB RAS will apply a new approach to the study of caves in Central Asia. The project is being implemented with support from the Russian Foundation for Basic Research.

They plan to study the structures of sediments within the caves and determine the most promising areas for future excavations in the Strashnaya, Chagyrskaya, and Selungur caves. These caves are among the most well stratified Paleolithic monuments in Central Asia and contain powerful cultural deposits.

 "The uniqueness of the caves and the techniques used make it possible to obtain much more information. Processing the results takes quite a long time, and consequently the pace of excavation is extremely slow. But with the help of a combination of geophysical methods we will be able to identify traces of human life even before excavation," said Svetlana Schneider, Candidate of Historical Sciences, archaeologist and member of the project team.

Their method of magnetometry makes it possible to detect anomalies associated with anthropogenic objects: fireplaces, traces of buildings, and burial grounds in the area are being studied. Geoelectric methods are very effective in determining the depth of sediment boundaries and the location of underground objects. Similar studies have been conducted repeatedly by Novosibirsk geophysicists teams with archaeologists in Siberia, Kazakhstan, and India. In this project, geophysical methods will be used to determine the underground structure of the cave galleries and to find traces of human activity. The galleries in the caves have convenient niches suitable for sleeping and resting, and contain many cultural items used by ancient man.

The scientists believe that determining the prospects for future gallery excavations is an important task that can save time and money. Interestingly, the remains of ancient man, his tools of stone and bone, fireplaces and other objects of primitive art (pendants, beads and other personal items) have already been found in the caves. During the continued study of hidden galleries, it will be possible to identify the most promising areas for archaeological excavations.

The reason our archaeologists did not use geophysical methods in caves before is because it is very difficult. Interpreting geophysical measurements is difficult because the algorithms used to process the obtained data assume that the measurements are made on the surface of the earth. In addition, the limited space in the caves complicates the use of standard methods of observation, and the complex geometry of space can distort measurement results.

During the research, they will determine the most effective combination of geophysical methods to be used in the future study of similar caves.