First Multi-level Mesolithic Peat-Bog Site in the Eastern Urals area

In the Eastern Urals area the Mesolithic is represented mainly by settlements situated on a mineral soil, in which habitation levels often contain non-stratified finds from various periods. Organic materials at such sites do not survive and there are no radio-carbon dates or palynological data available. This has led to a situation, in which the view that the Eastern Urals area had only been settled in the Late Mesolithic, was predominant for a long time. The discovery and investigation of multi-level peat-bog sites containing undisturbed habitation levels of the Mesolithic period separated off from each other by sterile layers have been a focus of great interest for the whole Urals region and the territories adjacent to it.
A site of this kind was found as a result of our work in 2008. The settlement known as Beregovaya 2 is on the eastern slopes of the Urals, on a rocky outcrop on the north-eastern shore of the Gorbunovsky peat bog 5 km south of the city of Nizhnii Tagil. During excavations in 1990–1991 mixed materials of the Mesolithic, Neolithic and Chalcolithic periods were identified at this site. In 2008–2009 a trench was sunk by our expedition under the above-mentioned outcrop, which measured 76 m2. Five habitation levels were traced within it in lake or bog deposits, which were separated off from each other by streaks of peat and gyttja. In the first upper level rare finds from the Chalcolithic Ayat culture were discovered; in the second pottery was encountered and also stone and bone artefacts dating from the Early Neolithic period. The three lowest levels date from the Early, Middle and Late Mesolithic.
Spores-and-pollen analysis has made it possible to associate the Chalcolithic horizon with the Sub-boreal period and the Neolithic level with the first half of the Atlantic period. The Upper Mesolithic level links in with the end of the Boreal period, and the Middle Mesolithic level with the first half of the Boreal period; the lowest Mesolithic level relates to the Praeboreal period of the Holocene epoch.
According to the data obtained using radiocarbon analysis the Neolithic level dates from c. 7,000 BP, the Upper Mesolithic level from c. 8,300–8,000 BP, the Middle Neolithic level from c. 9,000–8,500 BP and the Lower Mesolithic level from c. 10,000–9,800 BP. The faunal remains from all three levels comprise elk, beaver and other forest animals and also birds and fish.
In the Upper Mesolithic level traces of a trackway made from large split, planed and charred logs have survived: the trackway had led from the dry shore across the bog to the lake. In the Middle and Lower Mesolithic levels, remains of structures were found — stakes, split logs, pieces of branches and small tree trunks.
Stone artefacts found include items common in Mesolithic levels of the Eastern Urals area — cores, blades, scrapers, burins and inserts. In all the Mesolithic levels pieces and blanks for polished cutting tools made of slate were found, which were particularly numerous in the middle level. Clearly recognizable bone items were also found: arrow-heads, barbed points and harpoons, whole daggers and those with inserts, knives, awls, tools made from beaver mandibles and various blanks. Of particular interest was a “hoard” of eleven bone arrow-heads discovered in the Middle Mesolithic level.
The peat section of the Beregovaya 2 settlement was the first multi-level site in the Urals, where reliably dated levels of the Early, Middle and Late Mesolithic periods have been recorded in clearly stratified deposits. Whereas earlier scholars had merely raised the question as to the possible existence of Early Mesolithic sites in the Eastern Urals area, results obtained through excavation have now confirmed that this region was inhabited throughout the Mesolithic period. One of the most important tasks currently confronting archaeologists is multi-disciplinary investigation of Mesolithic sites in the Eastern Urals area, development of the Mesolithic population and interaction with the natural environment.

M.G. Zhilin and S.N. Savchenko

Digital publication