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2019-02-14 13:31:02   •   ID: 2075

Lithics from the Far East: The case of Kamchatka

Figure 1
Figure 1: These are 4 artifacts from the South/West Kamchatka Peninsula in the Russian North-East. Two items (Figure 1; Nr 2 and 3) are made from Obsidian, one is a partially bifacial pointed tool and the other formally a convergent scraper.

The first item is a slightly curved bifacial "knife" (Figure 1; Nr 1) made of calcedony. The last artifact (Figure 1; Nr 4) is a good retouched unifacial double scraper made of Chert.

Kamchatka Peninsula lies in the northeast of the Russian Far East, washed by the Pacific Ocean and Bering Strait to the east and the Sea of Okhotsk to the west. The area of the peninsula itself is approximately 270,000 square kilometers.

The peninsula has mostly mountainous terrain; the Sredinny (“Central”) and Vostochny (“Eastern”) Mountain Ranges stretch across the whole peninsula almost parallel to each other, and the northern part of the peninsula is occupied by the Koryak Mountains.

Figure 2
Located on the Pacific rim of fire, Kamchatka has 29 active volcanoes, countless geysers, boiling mud cauldrons, steam vents, earthquakes, and other forms of seismic activity (Figure 2: Wikipedia).

Influenced by its latitude and long oceanic coastline, wetlands, stony barrens, volcanic lava, coastal sands, and tundra dominate the subarctic landscape.

Indigenous people, living in acephalous societies, relied on fresh water fishing and large sea mammal hunting at the coast and reindeer herding in the interior of the peninsula, before they were "discovered" by Russian explorers after 1639.

Figure 3
This provoked the usual consequences-you certainly know the famous quote of Georg C. Lichtenberg - "The American who first discovered Columbus made a bad discovery".

There are only a few reports about early indigenous life- the most readable comes from Georg Wilhelm Steller (Beschreibung von dem Lande Kamtschatka. Frankfurt und Leipzig. 1774).

Earliest settlement: The famous Ushki Lake sites were extensively excavated by Dikov between 1964 and 1990. They represent large Paleolithic camps - the earliest in the northern Far East.

Site Nr. 1 and 5 revealed a stratified late Paleolithic. The Level VII at Site 5 was re-dated in 2003-before the advent of strict pretreatment protocols and statistic modeling- to 13 k.a. cal BP.

It was characterized by a core and flake industry with small bifacial leave- and stemmed- points, bifacial "knives", and good side- and endscrapers.

Figure 4
In layer VII Dikow discovered traces of hearths and dwelling structures and a burial. The burial pit was filled with charcoal and abundant lumps of red ochre. On its bottom amber beads and biconically drilled pendants were detected.

The advent of Micro Blades: Some researchers think that first traces of microblade production on Kamchatka are already known from the earliest level (Level VII) of the Ushki Lake sites. This issue seems to be controversial. I personally noted only a marginal lamellar component but no typical cores in the published literature.

Wedge-shaped Microblade cores in abundance appear in the next higher level (VI) and were dated between 12-11 k.a. More about pressure flaking and Microblades -see here 1517 .

It is not surprising that the discussions about the interpretation of the Ushki Lake succession, the Change from a bifacial to a micro-blade technique are far from being closed.

Researchers supporting cultural historic approaches, which are still well established in the local scientific community, prefer an ethnical replacement model, while others prefer multiple functional and ecological explanations)- these are late Echos of the Binford-Bordes debate....

Figure 5
It is important that well developed leave -shaped projectile points are also part of Stratum VI but morphologically they differ from the stemmed points in Layer VII.

The lithic traditions during the Pleistocene to Holocene transition and the Holocene, called within the local scientific tradition "Neolithic" (ca. 6–1,5 k.a.BP), saw renewed changes in lithic production, especially by the introduction of micro- prismatic techniques into the established wedge-shaped microblade core system.

Microblades seem to have been parts of multicomponent hunting devices, their development could have been triggered by activities oriented towards seasonal salmon fishing, which began during the late Paleolithic with an increase during the Early Holocene.

Obsidian Sourcing: First results revealed the distance of obsidian movement during the late Upper Paleolithic, (Ushki 1,2,5), was 200–300km and remained high (90km - 470km) during the "Neolithic".

Finally, during the "Palaeometal" (postneolithic) period, long distant transport with distances up to 450-560km was evidenced.

In Sum the artifacts shown here could be 13000- or only a few 100 years old. They demonstrate the great beauty and variability of Kamchatka lithic artifacts and the use of very different materials with different knapping properties.