Oldest Paleolithic Rock Art in Siberia May Be More Ancient than Previously Believed
There is something in the soul of humans that inspires us to create. Evidence of this creative impulse going back to 8,000 or even 10,000 years is found in Siberia in the form of drawings of horses and bison scratched into rocks.
The petroglyphs were previously thought to be much younger but may now be understood as the oldest in Siberia, researchers say. Researchers are also trying to determine if the ancient artists used stone or metal tools to etch the rocks, but so far the mineral debris in the grooves of the drawings suggests stone implements.
Archaeologists are also hoping to find Paleolithic settlements or camps—traces of the people who left these drawings carved in stone. So far, who they were is entirely unknown.
The drawings are at a site on the Ukok plateau on the Russian-Mongolian border near Kazakhstan where there is a modern tungsten-molybdenum mine, the Kalgutinskoye. There are more recent petroglyphs at the site. Researchers have run into problems in dating the Paleolithic-style drawings. But French researchers who studied the petroglyphs agree: They are even more ancient than previously believed, reports Siberian Times.
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Speaking to Siberian Times, an archaeologist specializing in Siberia, Dr. Lidia Zotkina, said:
'We had already worked with this site, but this year was the first stage of an international joint project with our colleagues from France. Between 1 and 25 July, we worked on the plateau and now can share some preliminary results. We believe that we managed to prove that the petroglyphs were made in the Paleolithic era - and are the most ancient in Siberia. When the French archaeologists first arrived on the Ukok plateau and saw the petroglyphs they said: “If we had found them somewhere in France, we would not doubt they are Paleolithic, but here, in Siberia, we need to prove it.”'
The prehistoric people who drew the petroglyphs etched them onto glacier-polished rhyolite on horizontal planes. Rhyolite is a volcanic rock. The windy conditions on the Ukok plateau prevent scientists from obtaining a clear stratigraphy, or geological dating , of the rocks upon which the glyphs are drawn. Archaeologists also cannot use the usual archaeological methods of dating the drawings and will need to come up with new or innovative methods to determine how old they are.
Petroglyphs have been found in other areas of Siberia, such as these at Mount Baga-Zarya, Buryatia (Photo by Аркадий Зарубин/Wikimedia Commons)
“This year we worked with geomorphologists—their main task was to determine when the glaciers left this site—and specialists in trace analysis,” Dr. Zotkina said. “According to the preliminary data, the glacier retreated as early as between 8,000 and 10,000 years ago. So that is when ancient people could access this place and create the petroglyphs.”
Siberian Times asked Dr. Zotkina who made the petroglyphs: “Some big Paleolithic sites where people must have lived were not found yet. The climate on Ukok does not help to preserve such sites, so we do not know who could make these petroglyphs, if it is correct that they are Paleolithic. But I think that it is a matter of the time. Sooner or later Paleolithic sites will be found and we will get more information about the people who could engrave these images.”
The Ukok Plateau also made the news last year with the famous Siberian Ice Maiden, whose reburial finally took place after years of requests. The Ice Maiden, also known as the Princess of Ukok, was put on display after she was discovered in 1993, drawing attention for the elaborate tattoos covering her body. However, many believed that it was indecent to expose her naked form to the public. That reasoning, combined with the increased flooding and earthquakes in the Altay region, created a strong desire to put her spirit to rest.
Featured Image: The drawings, though difficult to date scientifically, match the style of Paleolithic drawings of 8,000 to 10,000 years ago. (Photo by Lidia Zotkina)
By Mark Miller