Northernmost Palaeolithic Settlement Reveals Mass Butchering of Woolly Mammoths
Scientists and archaeologists have discovered the world’s northernmost Palaeolithic settlement on Kotelny Island, 990 kilometers (615 miles) north of the Arctic Circle! Ancient hunters resided on this island off the coast of Yakutia, and their tools as well as several woolly mammoth bones provide evidence that they butchered the now extinct animal at the site.
“This is a unique event for the Arctic and world archaeology. We are talking about the northernmost human site in the Palaeolithic era ,” said Alexander Kandyba, senior researcher at the Stone Age Archaeology Department of the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography, part of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
Scientists say that Kotelny Island has the northernmost Palaeolithic settlement. ( Innokenty Pavlov/The Siberian Times )
The Extinction of the Woolly Mammoth
The woolly mammoth faced its extinction after the waning of the last Ice Age, some 10,000 years ago, but their numbers dwindled throughout the preceding period due to widespread hunting - although isolated numbers remained until as recently as 4,000 years ago on Wrangel Island in the Arctic Ocean .
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At the site on Kotelny Island called Taba-Yuryakh the team of scientists reconstructed up to 70% of the skeleton of one Palaeolithic mammoth that lived 26,000 years ago. It had been hunted and was feasted upon by early man, reports The Siberian Times . Alexander Kandyba said:
“The mammoth was butchered by people. A large number of processed bones and tusk fragments were found. There are linear cuts, traces of chopping blows on the vertebra. People used a wide range of tools for cutting. There is not a single bone that would be without traces of human impact. In particular, we now know how they butchered a mammoth.”
Experts say there is not a single bone that would be without traces of human impact. ( Innokenty Pavlov/The Siberian Times )
Woolly mammoths are the third most commonly depicted animal in cave paintings – this suggests that people hunted them not just for their meat, but for other uses too. Long, furry coats protected the animals from the harsh and frigid temperatures of the Ice Age , and large sebaceous glands secreted oil to waterproof their coats. Additionally, they had camel-like humps filled with fat to store extra nutrients for long winters, according to History of Yesterday .
The Palaeolithic Age and Mammoths
The Palaeolithic, or Old Stone Age, is a period in human prehistory which was marked by the beginning and usage of rudimentary stone tools between the first recorded tools made by hominins 3.3 million years ago, to 11,500 years ago, when the Ice Age began to wane. This period was marked by nomadic hunting-gathering and the presence of small clans known as ‘bands’, who subsisted by gathering roots, berries, and plants or by scavenging and hunting animals.
After the waning of the Ice Age, Palaeolithic people found weather conditions ideal for settling down and practicing agriculture. While hunting and gathering continued at a reduced scale, the first societies began developing and social differentiation occurred – storage surpluses meant that jobs were created within the fold of a clan, while populations boomed as babies no longer had to be carried on people’s backs while moving. Plants and animals began to be domesticated, particularly Einkorn wheat, and animals like chickens, goats, sheep, and cattle were used for their resources.
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Palaeolithic humans were living in Siberia above the Arctic Circle by 25,000 BC. This area, once a forest, became grasslands and savannas during this time period – the change in vegetation caused long-necked grazers to enter the region. Although the Taba-Yuryakh Palaeolithic settlement is now on an island, when the ancient humans inhabited the area it was connected to the mainland.
Within mainland Siberia, scattered patches of grasslands appeared, but with the slowly rising temperature, more and more ice melted, allowing human beings to enter previously inaccessible areas where they could hunt mammoths , which had formerly been out of their reach. Thus, a combination of global warming and hunting caused the population of mammoths to rapidly dwindle.
A combination of global warming and hunting caused the population of mammoths to rapidly dwindle. ( Daniel /Adobe Stock)
Top image: Scientists discovered the northernmost Palaeolithic settlement on Kotelny island. Source: Innokenty Pavlov/The Siberian Times
By Sahir Pandey
Gertcyk, O., Liesowska, A. 2021. World’s northernmost Palaeolithic settlement found on Kotelny island in the Arctic . Available at: https://siberiantimes.com/science/casestudy/news/worlds-northernmost-palaeolithic-settlement-found-on-kotelny-island-in-the-arctic/.
Dunham, W. 2021. The bitter end: Last woolly mammoths plagued by genetic defects. Available at: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-science-mammoths-idUSKBN20200I.