The Earliest Palaeolithic Sites in Central Dagestan

 

 

Since the Early Palaeolithic settlement Aynikab I was discovered in Central Dagestan in 2005, more than 10 stratified sites from the Early and Middle Pleistocene have been identified. The proluvial deposits with archaeological material are situated on the summit of the watershed range between the Rivers Akusha and Usisha, at a height of 1,540–1,630 m above sea level. The thickness of the levels containing finds is between 8 and 10 m in the northern part of the drainage divide, on which the group of Aynikab settlements is situated, as much as 60–70 m in the southern part, where sterile bands of clay alternate with the habitation levels of the Mukhkay I and II and Gegalashur I, II and II settlements containing fragmentary material.
In 2006–2009 excavations were carried out in the multi-level settlements Aynikab I, Mukhkay I and Mukhkay II dating from the Early Pleistocene. The industries at these sites are characterised by features typical for classical sites of the Oldowan culture: the diversity in the composition of the assemblage and its typological structure, the presence of functional “core-blank-tool” sequences, the larger numbers of tools made from stone fragments as opposed to those made using flakes, the predominance of choppers with various edge modifications, the presence of small tools such as scrapers and also that of notched and thorned tools and a total absence of stone hand-axes.
Apart from the actual archaeological investigation of the sites and their assemblages, the excavated materials were the subject of laboratory analysis using methods such as palaeomagnetic, palynological, phytolith and phosphate analysis. Palaeomagnetic analysis made it possible to identify levels
at the Aynikab I site which were earlier than the Kharamilio episode of positive magnetization, i.e. c. one million BP. The palynological and phytolith studies brought to light species of vegetation associated with the Late Pliocene and Early Pleistocene. Among the faunal remains from the Aynikab I and Mukhkay II settlements horse bones (Equus stenonis) were found typical for the Early Pleistocene period.
The investigation of Early Palaeolithic sites in the Northern Caucasus in recent years has provided incontrovertible evidence for the existence in the said region of pre-Acheulian sites — both as regards their age and their archaeological features. When it comes to the territory of Dagestan, the results of various investigations drawing on methods used in natural sciences and corroborated by representative archaeological collections, now being excavated at the Aynikab I, Mukhkay I and Mukhkay II sites, are highly significant as regards work to resolve questions bearing on the first human occupation of Europe and for the typological characterization of the culture within this territory in the early stages of the Palaeolithic period. The above-mentioned sites date from the Early Pleistocene period (Eopleistocene), which definitely enables us to include the territory of Southern Russia in the region where the first human settlements occurred. If we start out from the totality of the data obtained, it is possible to regard as proven the fact that the first human occupation of South-eastern Europe took place no later than around 1.5 million years ago. It took place from the South along the “Caspian Corridor”, i.e. along the western shore of the Caspian Sea.
The Aynikab I, Mukhkay I and II sites belong to the classical Oldowan Culture — the earliest culture of all, with an age of between 1.5 and 3 million years. Oldowan sites have been found in East Africa, Southern Arabia and Spain. In recent years equally important materials have been added to the above list — materials from the territory of Southern Russia, including those found in Central Dagestan.

Since the Early Palaeolithic settlement Aynikab I was discovered in Central Dagestan in 2005, more than 10 stratified sites from the Early and Middle Pleistocene have been identified. The proluvial deposits with archaeological material are situated on the summit of the watershed range between the Rivers Akusha and Usisha, at a height of 1,540–1,630 m above sea level. The thickness of the levels containing finds is between 8 and 10 m in the northern part of the drainage divide, on which the group of Aynikab settlements is situated, as much as 60–70 m in the southern part, where sterile bands of clay alternate with the habitation levels of the Mukhkay I and II and Gegalashur I, II and II settlements containing fragmentary material.
In 2006–2009 excavations were carried out in the multi-level settlements Aynikab I, Mukhkay I and Mukhkay II dating from the Early Pleistocene. The industries at these sites are characterised by features typical for classical sites of the Oldowan culture: the diversity in the composition of the assemblage and its typological structure, the presence of functional “core-blank-tool” sequences, the larger numbers of tools made from stone fragments as opposed to those made using flakes, the predominance of choppers with various edge modifications, the presence of small tools such as scrapers and also that of notched and thorned tools and a total absence of stone hand-axes.
Apart from the actual archaeological investigation of the sites and their assemblages, the excavated materials were the subject of laboratory analysis using methods such as palaeomagnetic, palynological, phytolith and phosphate analysis. Palaeomagnetic analysis made it possible to identify levels
at the Aynikab I site which were earlier than the Kharamilio episode of positive magnetization, i.e. c. one million BP. The palynological and phytolith studies brought to light species of vegetation associated with the Late Pliocene and Early Pleistocene. Among the faunal remains from the Aynikab I and Mukhkay II settlements horse bones (Equus stenonis) were found typical for the Early Pleistocene period.
The investigation of Early Palaeolithic sites in the Northern Caucasus in recent years has provided incontrovertible evidence for the existence in the said region of pre-Acheulian sites — both as regards their age and their archaeological features. When it comes to the territory of Dagestan, the results of various investigations drawing on methods used in natural sciences and corroborated by representative archaeological collections, now being excavated at the Aynikab I, Mukhkay I and Mukhkay II sites, are highly significant as regards work to resolve questions bearing on the first human occupation of Europe and for the typological characterization of the culture within this territory in the early stages of the Palaeolithic period. The above-mentioned sites date from the Early Pleistocene period (Eopleistocene), which definitely enables us to include the territory of Southern Russia in the region where the first human settlements occurred. If we start out from the totality of the data obtained, it is possible to regard as proven the fact that the first human occupation of South-eastern Europe took place no later than around 1.5 million years ago. It took place from the South along the “Caspian Corridor”, i.e. along the western shore of the Caspian Sea.
The Aynikab I, Mukhkay I and II sites belong to the classical Oldowan Culture — the earliest culture of all, with an age of between 1.5 and 3 million years. Oldowan sites have been found in East Africa, Southern Arabia and Spain. In recent years equally important materials have been added to the above list — materials from the territory of Southern Russia, including those found in Central Dagestan.

Since the Early Palaeolithic settlement Aynikab I was discovered in Central Dagestan in 2005, more than 10 stratified sites from the Early and Middle Pleistocene have been identified. The proluvial deposits with archaeological material are situated on the summit of the watershed range between the Rivers Akusha and Usisha, at a height of 1,540–1,630 m above sea level. The thickness of the levels containing finds is between 8 and 10 m in the northern part of the drainage divide, on which the group of Aynikab settlements is situated, as much as 60–70 m in the southern part, where sterile bands of clay alternate with the habitation levels of the Mukhkay I and II and Gegalashur I, II and II settlements containing fragmentary material.
In 2006–2009 excavations were carried out in the multi-level settlements Aynikab I, Mukhkay I and Mukhkay II dating from the Early Pleistocene. The industries at these sites are characterised by features typical for classical sites of the Oldowan culture: the diversity in the composition of the assemblage and its typological structure, the presence of functional “core-blank-tool” sequences, the larger numbers of tools made from stone fragments as opposed to those made using flakes, the predominance of choppers with various edge modifications, the presence of small tools such as scrapers and also that of notched and thorned tools and a total absence of stone hand-axes.
Apart from the actual archaeological investigation of the sites and their assemblages, the excavated materials were the subject of laboratory analysis using methods such as palaeomagnetic, palynological, phytolith and phosphate analysis. Palaeomagnetic analysis made it possible to identify levels
at the Aynikab I site which were earlier than the Kharamilio episode of positive magnetization, i.e. c. one million BP. The palynological and phytolith studies brought to light species of vegetation associated with the Late Pliocene and Early Pleistocene. Among the faunal remains from the Aynikab I and Mukhkay II settlements horse bones (Equus stenonis) were found typical for the Early Pleistocene period.
The investigation of Early Palaeolithic sites in the Northern Caucasus in recent years has provided incontrovertible evidence for the existence in the said region of pre-Acheulian sites — both as regards their age and their archaeological features. When it comes to the territory of Dagestan, the results of various investigations drawing on methods used in natural sciences and corroborated by representative archaeological collections, now being excavated at the Aynikab I, Mukhkay I and Mukhkay II sites, are highly significant as regards work to resolve questions bearing on the first human occupation of Europe and for the typological characterization of the culture within this territory in the early stages of the Palaeolithic period. The above-mentioned sites date from the Early Pleistocene period (Eopleistocene), which definitely enables us to include the territory of Southern Russia in the region where the first human settlements occurred. If we start out from the totality of the data obtained, it is possible to regard as proven the fact that the first human occupation of South-eastern Europe took place no later than around 1.5 million years ago. It took place from the South along the “Caspian Corridor”, i.e. along the western shore of the Caspian Sea.
The Aynikab I, Mukhkay I and II sites belong to the classical Oldowan Culture — the earliest culture of all, with an age of between 1.5 and 3 million years. Oldowan sites have been found in East Africa, Southern Arabia and Spain. In recent years equally important materials have been added to the above list — materials from the territory of Southern Russia, including those found in Central Dagestan.

H.A. Amirkhanov and A.B. Seleznyov

Digital publication