The Latest Finds from Khotylyovo

Khotylyovo 2 — the well-known site of the Upper Palaeolithic period in Eastern Europe, is situated approximately 23 km west of the town of Bryansk. In 2006 an expedition from the Institute of Archaeology embarked on excavations of a new Area C at some distance from the edge of the high west bank of the River Desna. The stratigraphic conditions pertaining to the habitation levels of this site were similar to those recorded during excavations of Areas A, B and D, the radio-carbon dates for which fall between 24 and 21,000 years ago.
In the new Area C 45 m2 of the habitation levels have been investigated: it proved to be extremely rich in artefacts made from knapped flint, tusks and bones, faunal remains and also patches of burnt bones and ochre, pits and other features. Of particular interest were the groups of mammoth bones, consisting usually of one or two skulls, pelvic bones, scapulae and mandibles laid out deliberately in a specific sequence. During the excavations some mammoth long bones were found separately arranged either vertically or leaning at an angle: they had been split and deliberately inserted into the ground.
In the course of the investigations two different assemblages of archaeological finds were recorded. One of these consisted mainly of groups of specially arranged mammoth bones, while the distinctive features of the other assemblage were special saucer-shaped pits with vertically positioned bones next to them around patches of burnt bones and ochre, worked flints and split animal bones. The stratigraphy of the habitation levels gives us grounds for assuming that these assemblages had existed at different times: the first, earlier one was no longer functioning when the second came into being.
The stone tools found during these excavations include burins, scrapers, various points, knives and microliths — inserts for composite tools. The assemblage also contained cores and numerous large blades which had not been subsequently processed. Among the bone artefacts there were tools made from mammoth ribs, which would appear to have been used for breaking up the earth. In the first assemblage an unusual object was found — a so-called small “spatula” also fashioned from a mammoth rib. It has a distinct “head” section with a small groove cut across it and a triangular chip in the top right corner. The main part of the “spatula” on the inside bears a fine engraving, which might be a symbolic depiction of a female belly. Stylistically speaking the “spatula” resembles other objects in this category found by the scholar who had originally discovered this site in the 1970s — F.M. Zavernyaev.
The most interesting find made in Area C was a new art object discovered in 2009. A depiction of two naked female figures within a trapezium, with its narrow side at the bottom, had been incised on a plate of chalk. It had been executed in a realistic manner traditional for the Gravettian culture as found in Western Europe. The women are standing shoulder to shoulder: their heads, arms and lower legs are missing. The reverse side of the plate has been rendered smooth and divided, by means of a lengthways groove, into two halves corresponding to the two figures.
The plate had been broken into several fragments by the inhabitants of the Khotylyovo 2 site in antiquity. They lay in a small pile in a habitation level of the second assemblage next to a pit round in plan, the in-fill of which contained a large amount of mammoth bones and ochre.
A presentation of a female figure of this kind was recorded here for the first time. The material out of which the object was made is also unusual. All small female figures found earlier during excavations of the Khotylyovo 2 site had been carved out of mammoth tusks.

K.N. Gavrilov

Digital publication