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2018-11-24 17:18:16   •   ID: 2053

The Streletskian /Streletskayan: A short Introduction

Figure 1
This is a very characteristic Streletskaya point made from a flat flake by bifacial retouches showing the „diagnostic“ concave base.

Paleolithic ensembles with such points are known as Streletskian. In this context, the triangular tool is a formidable "fossil directeur" of a very interesting technocomplex, characterized by flake production and the near absence of blades in most of the Sites assigned to this complex.

Together with this unique points, bifacial leaf-shaped points, "Poplar leaf points" and “knives” with a single retouched edge made on flint plaquettes are common. Small endscrapers with continuous edge retouch, producing a roughly triangular or thumbnail form are also characteristic for the Streletskian.

Burins are virtually absent. Together, bifacial tools and endscrapers account for about 60% of tools. Many of the retouched artifacts have a Middle Paleolithic design, including sidescrapers, both single and double (convergent and dejete). "Mousterian" and "Quinson" points occur. Anyhow, such artifacts may represent unfinished tools. In this view, there was no transitional technology in the Streletskayan (Giria, 1999).

The East European Plain  is a vast interior plain extending east of the North/Central European Plain, and comprising several plateaus stretching roughly from 25 degrees longitude eastward.

It includes the westernmost Volhynian-Podolian Upland, the Central Russian Upland, and on the eastern border, encompassing the Volga Upland. The plain includes also a series of major river basins such as the Dnepr Basin, the Oka-Don Lowland, and the Volga Basin.

Along the southernmost point of the East European Plain are the Caucasus and Crimean mountain ranges. Together with the North European Plain covering much of north-eastern Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, it constitutes the European Plain, the mountain-free part of the European landscape.

While the structure of the Early Upper Paleolithic (EUP) in Western and Middle Europe became considerable clear during the last 20 years, the integration of the east European EUP into the wider European context remains challenging.

The most important reason is related to the scarcity of natural shelters on the East European Plain resulting in a low visibility of buried sites. Another critical issue is the data quality from old excavations, often in combination with unreliable radiometric age determinations. Important reports were not written for an English speaking audience and remained unnoticed in the international scientific discussion.

But the the times they are a-changing (Bob Dylan) and an international team has successfully renewed and coordinated work at the Kostenki sites:

http://www.earlymodernhumaneurope.com

Figure 2
On the East European plain it seems that bifacial elements (Streletskian, “Eastern Szeletian”) define one important component of the EUP. Recently some key sequences were re-dated and other remain to be reevaluated in depth.

Let's begin the discussion with key-sites in the in the regions of the villages of Kostenki and Borshevo. Here, mostly multilayered sites cover about 30 km2 and are situated over ca 7 km along the western bank of the Don River in Khokholsky District, Voronezh Oblast, Russia, some 25 km south of the city of Voronezh.

The Paleolithic sites, already recognized during the 19th century are named Kostenki-1–21 and Borshevo-1–5. About the stratigraphy of these sites see Reynolds at al. (last external link with minor modifications of the text):

" At many sites in the Kostënki-Borshchëvo area, part or all of the same geological stratigraphy has been identified, which can be summarised as follows

  • A Lower Humic Bed (LHB) of paleosols interstratified with other deposits is overlain by a non-humified, calcareous layer. The latter contains an often-visible volcanic ash layer which has been identified as tephra from the Campanian Ignimbrite eruption
  • Above this is found the Upper Humic Bed (UHB), which is of similar composition to the LHB. This is in turn overlain by
  • loess-like loams, which contain a comparatively weakly expressed paleosol layer known as the Gmelin soil.


A. N. Rogachëv divided the archaeological layers found at Kostënki-Borshchëvo into three chrono- logical groups based on their stratigraphic positions. These are, from earliest to latest:

  • those found in the LHB: Ancient / Earliest Group
  • those found in the UHB: Middle Group
  • Those found above the UHB, including sites found on the first (lowest) terrace, where the UHB and LHB have not been identified": Late Group


Systematic investigation of Kostenki 1 were initiated by I.S. Polyakov in 1879 and repeatedly during the 20th century. Five archeological strata have been identified: K 1/1 (Kostienki - Avdeevo-Willendorf –Gravettian), K1/III: a genuine Aurignacian and Kostenki 1/V (Streletskian). The lower chronological limit of the Streletskian is about 42 k.a. old (44-47 k.a. cal. BP).

These state-of-the art C-14 data are verified by OSL and another important evidence: The Streletskaya assemblages geochronological belongs to the Kostenki Ancient Chronological group in the LHB (Layer V underlies the CI tephra ~40k.a. cal BP).

Of similar age is the Strelets Material from Kostenki 12 and 6, which are incorporated in and below the CI-tephra. It has to be mentioned that even older EUP ensembles in the area of Kostenki are known.

Excavations of the last decade of the lowermost cultural layer (IVb) at Kostenki 14, under the CI tephra and older than the Streletskian provided evidence for an assemblage without typical Aurignacian and Streletskian elements, maybe with affinities to the Ahmarian / Protoaurignacian.

Outside the Kostenki area, other sites have been repeatetly assigned to the Streletskayan:

Biryuchiya Balka 2 is a workshop site located at a flint outcrop at the Lower Don river. Archaeological levels 3a-3б (“Kostenki-Streletskaya culture” at Biryuchiya Balka 2 is assigned by AMS dates between 32 and 36 k.a. BP (non-calibrated).

The tool-Kit includes the typical “bi-convex” triangular concave-based points, many of them more elongated than at Kostenki and very delicately made. Thumbnail scrapers are common. The ensemble could indicate an advanced stage of the Streletskian /Streletskayan according to Kozlowsky.

The “Eastern Szeletian / Streletskian” at Buran-Kaya III, level C is situated under stadial conditions, between two interstadials, and below an Eastern Micoquian, C-14 dated to to 41,5-40 k.a. cal BP. It is therefore roughly contemporaneous with the Kostenki Streletskian.

It shows the typical endscrapers and bifacial leaf-shaped points but instead of bifacial points with concave base -unique bifacially retouched trapezoids with straight and concave bases.

If we accept, that the new direct AMS C-14 dates of the famous Sungir human burials are representative for the typical Streletskian at this site (33,3- 36,3 k.a. cal BP), this would indicate considerable time depth of at least 5-6 k.a. of this techno complex in the strict sense.

At the rich upper Layers of the Garchi I Site, which is located in the upper Kama basin, more than half of tools are bifacial triangular projectiles with concave bases and end scrapers. Most end scrapers were made on short triangular flakes with ventral trimming.

The age of the Garchi site is based on only one C-14 date of 31.5-34.7 k.a. cal BP. However, the OSL and TL-samples produced similar ages between 33-38 ka.

Further sites, discussed below, exhibit the typical triangular points, but are neither well dated and/or show a different artifactual composition of the assemblages.

The Vys site in the Vys river basin (Central Ukraine )was excavated between the 1980ies until 2005. We have no radiometric data and according to geological estimates Vis is said to be dated around 30 k.a. BP.

Although typical flat triangular Strelets points are present, the mode of debitage is clearly more blade orientated, than the Strelets in Russia.

The assemblage includes end-scrapers on blades and flakes. Carinated and nosed scraper pointing to a production of Lamelles, not mentioned in the Report, probably not part of the excavated area or exportet. Denticulates and side scraper were also present. There are both typological links to the Strelets of the river Don basin and to the so called “Moldavian Szelet” for example at Gordinesti of unknown age.

Overall the Streletskian has a very wide spatial distribution from the Middle Urals (Garchi 1) to the Pontic steppe (Biriychaia balka 2, Vys), without relations to any environmental conditions or to site functions.

If there are any connections to the "Morava-type Aurignacian / Míškovice-type industry" with triangular points without a concave base remains uncertain because these ensembles are surface palimpsests.

Suggested Readings :

Le Sungirien S. Vasylyev, A. Sinitsyn, M. Otte (edit.) Collection ERAUL 147. Far the most complete synthesis I know....

and look in Dons Map for the rich Burials of Sungir.