Archaeologists Find Evidence of the Earliest Appearance of Man on the Territory of Kyrgyzstan

A team fr om NSU’s New Archeology Center, together with the Institute of Archeology and Ethnography SB RAS and the National University of Kyrgyzstan, are exploring key monuments in Central Asia: monuments at the Eshme-Too range, the groves of Obishir-1-5 and the Sel-Ungur Cave. The archaeological sites are located in south-west of Kyrgyzstan in the Fergana Valley wh ere the Great Silk Road passed in antiquity and the Middle Ages.


This territory of Central Asia is very important for studying the ancient past of mankind because for millennia, migration routes of ancient people passed through these regions. People settled on the territory of Eurasia, moving along the ecological niches they were accustomed to they gradually mastered our continent.

Historically, there is less research on the earliest history of Central Asia, the Stone Age, in comparison to Europe, Southern Siberia or the Middle East. It could be referred to as a gray area on the map of human history. First of all, it concerns dating. In the 1950-80s, Soviet archeologists conducted quite a lot of work in Central Asia. This included work done by academician Okladnikov, the founder of the Siberian school of archeology in the 1950's. In the 20th century, the Sel-Ungur Cave was discovered during an intensive research period in the 1980s. During the twentieth century, in addition to archaeological artifacts, six teeth were found, a fragment of the cranium and the humerus of an adolescent who lived in a cave during the Stone Age. Studying these findings, Soviet archaeologists suggested that the cave settlement by man may have occurred more than a million years ago. That would indicate the very dawn of human history, the Early Paleolithic era. That would mean that one of the very first people to inhabit the open spaces of Central Asia was found.

Andrei Krivoshapkin
Andrei Krivoshapkin
Head of the «New Archeology» Project Professor

At the beginning of the 21st century, researchers fr om the Institute of Archeology and Ethnography SB RAS discovered a Denisovian, an unknown sub-species of a man who inhabited the expanses of Eurasia in antiquity, in Southern Siberia. This find made it clear that the history of the development of mankind is not as linear as previously thought. It proved that Neanderthals and Denisovians coexisted in Southern Siberia. Moreover, the results of paleogenetic studies have shown that they not only participated in genetic exchange, but also with a more archaic subspecies of man. The question arose how ancient man's interaction took place and in what regions. It was decided to resume the study of key monuments in Central Asia wh ere there were anthropological findings in the materials. Specifically, a new stage of research in the Sel-Ungur Cave began. The primary focus of this research was to clarify the appearance and inhabitation of man here and to interpret his material culture. Krivoshapkin provided more background to this work:

Before resuming work, we repeated an analysis of the teeth and humerus that were discovered in the cave in the 80's. It turned out that the teeth do not belong to any kind of human and the humerus is closer in structure to the Neanderthals but it also differs from them in archaism and size. There was a suggestion that this could be a Denisov man whose remains were found outside the Altai Denisova Caves. This is currently unknown, although genetic data says this subspecies of man was numerous and inhabited a significant part of Eurasia during the Stone Age. To establish a more precise understanding, we resumed work in the cave in 2013 in a joint project with the Institute of Archeology and Ethnography SB RAS and the University of Toronto. Experts from other countries joined us in this work along with young scientists from NSU who are currently implementing the «New Archeology Project» that is funded by the 5-100 Project.

To maximize the amount of information generated on issues of interest, specialists in the field of natural sciences were invited to provide input on our archaeological questions. This aspect of our subject has not been widely developed in Russia yet. The team of Novosibirsk archaeologists were joined by archaeologists from Germany (Max Planck Institute in Jena) and Poland (Institute of Geology, Warsaw), Geoarchaeologist from the Institute of Geology (Warsaw, Poland), anthropologists from the University of Toronto (Canada), malacofauna specialists (Ufa, Russia), geophysicists, and specialists in the study of micromorphology of sediments and sedimentology. Krivoshapkin continued to describe their findings:

–  In 2017 the earliest cultural deposits that indicated the very first visit to the cave by ancient man were found in Sel-Ungur. These cultural deposits were not identified during the work in the 1980s. At that time the researchers reached a heavy sterile (as we have already found out, more than 1 meter), layer without any findings (we already discovered this was more than one meter) and decided that it did not serve any purpose to dig any further. However, thanks to the use of modern technologies, we were able to more reasonably identify promising areas and concentrate our efforts there. At a depth of two meters from the level wh ere the previous researchers stopped, we discovered a cultural layer that records not only the earliest appearance of man in the Sel-Ungur Cave, but in the whole territory of Kyrgyzstan. This year a team of geophysicists working with us from the Institute of Geology and Geophysics SB RAS, found there is even more than a meter to the rocky base on this site. So, the work continues, and there is hope we will find earlier deposits.