Novosibirsk Scientists Determine Date for Arctic Settlement by Humans

The question of the initial settlement of the Arctic and Subarctic by ancient modern man  (Homo sapiens sapiens) has long been of interest to scientists. The valley of the Ob River is often considered a potential migration route for Paleolithic man. Novosibirsk scientists using accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) established the age of finds fr om the bone-bearing cultural horizon found in the sediments of an ancient stream in the Paleolithic locality Kushevat. It turned out that the first traces of an ancient man in the lower reaches of the Ob appeared 40 thousand years ago at the beginning of the Late Paleolithic period. 

There was a hypothesis that 12-30 thousand years ago Northern Western Siberia was covered by a large glacier (just like northern America and Europe) and to the south there was a dammed basin up to 130 meters. Based on this hypothesis, it was believed to be impossible to find archaeological monuments establishing a human presence 30-40 thousand years ago on the territory of the Ob. 

Challenging this hypothesis, Russian scientists, together with colleagues fr om Europe, have proven that there was a cover glaciation in North Western Siberia 90-60 thousand years ago north of Salekhard. This provided the Novosibirsk archaeologists grounds for conducting prospecting work on the territory of the Kushevat. 

Ivan Zolnikov, Project Leader, Doctor of Geological and Mineralogical Sciences, Head of the Sobolev Laboratory at the Institute of Geology and Mineralogy SB RAS, and Professor at the Novosibirsk State University Department of Geology and Geophysics, described their research,

Thanks to the international research program using AMS dating and optical-stimulating luminescence, our colleagues from Europe and Russia were able to prove that there was no ice cover in North Western Siberia 12-30 thousand years ago. The ice cover was much earlier, 90-60 thousand years ago north of Salekhard. The level of the ice-dammed basin in the Ob valley did not exceed 60 meters. This is a completely different paleogeographic picture. For thirty years I was convinced that all the conditions for the existence of ancient man were present in North Western Siberia. This project gave us the opportunity to try to prove it and find traces of Homo sapiens north of the Ob 30, 40, 50 thousand years ago. 

Accelerator mass spectrometry is an ultrasensitive method of isotopic analysis wh ere a careful selection of a substances atoms is performed by isotope counting. This method makes it possible to date archaeological finds and geological rocks with high accuracy and to study the composition of the atmosphere and the tissues of living organisms from different historical periods. The facilities necessary to conduct this analysis belong to the Center for Collective Use «Accelerator Mass Spectrometry of NSU-NSC». This Center was established by Novosibirsk State University and the Institute of Archeology and Ethnography SB RAS, the Boreskov Institute of Catalysis SB RAS, and the Budker Institute of Nuclear Physics SB RAS. 

Ekaterina Parkhomchuk, PhD and Director of the Collective Use Center, talked about the accelerators used,

We work with two accelerator mass spectrometers. One was developed by the Institute of Nuclear Physics and the second, MICADAS, was purchased by the University from a Swiss company. The facility was launched in January 2022, and more than 1,500 graphite samples are measured annually. Few people in the world have two accelerators with completely different designs and two types of graphitizers so they provide unique opportunities.

In this project, Novosibirsk scientists were able to establish that the Ob became one of the last large Siberian rivers wh ere traces of culture carriers from the early stages of the Upper Paleolithic were found in northern latitudes. This suggests good prospects for Kushevat in terms of further study of the early stages of the colonization of the North. The research was supported by a grant from the Russian Science Foundation. 

This article is based on material from the Institute of Nuclear Physics press service.