Ancient volcanic catastrophe turned out to be a treasure for modern scientists
Archaeologists of the St.Petersburg Material Culture Institute found almost a whole skeleton of a mammoth last summer. The remarkable event happened in Russia’s Voronezh region, not far from the village of Kostenki. Twenty-six objects of the paleolith era have been found in that area since 1879. Every object that was found there, was in a very good condition: hearths, animal bones, constructions made of mammoth bones, stone and bone things, decorations, and works of art.
The layers of eruptive ashes were found in the mentioned area about 50 years ago. This was a unique finding itself, for the Voronezh region is located very far from any active volcanic zones. Scientists believed that those ashes were erupted from Caucasian volcanoes, although specialists of the Volcanology Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences came to another conclusion in the 1980s. The Kostenki ashes turned out to be similar to the ones that were found in South Italy, in bottom sediments of the Adriatic Sea. As volcanists believed, the ashes were erupted by the volcanic system of South Italy, in the area of the up-to-date city of Naples.
The time, when the Kostenki ashes were laid, was determined with the help of the radiocarbon analysis. Their layer is located between two cultural layers. The age of the upper layer is 27-32 thousand years, while the age of the lower one is 33-37 thousand years. This means that the ashes were erupted around 32 or 33 thousand years ago. Scientists know the eruptions of this age: they found that eruptive ashes like that on the territory of Central and East Europe. However, it turned out that those ashes were different from the ones that were found in the Russian settlement of Kostenki. In addition to the chemical structure difference, the layers of the Kostenki ashes were thicker than the ones in Central Europe.
Volcanists believe that the eruption of volcanic ashes in Kostenki was the result of a more powerful and a more ancient eruption. It was so grand, that the volcanic ashes reached the stratosphere. This made the ashes fall down on the ground long after that, on a relatively local territory. Specialists say that the ashes concentration was immense – hundreds of thousands of tons. Most likely, the eruption led to a climate change. Even if such a vast mass of ashes stayed in the air, it might cause a nuclear winter effect. Scientists introduced this notion several years ago at a discussion of possible consequences of nuclear catastrophes. The science of volcanology was used to model such consequences.
That eruption was a total disaster for the ancient people. However, it was a treasure for up-to-date scientists. The sites of catastrophes are basically richer with archaeological material than the ones that were simply left by ancient people. That is why there were so many valuable things found in the summer of the year 2000 not far from the settlement of Kostenki. A layer of volcanic ashes contained numerous flint and bone tools, animal bones, various decorations. These things can hardly be found in other places. Archaeologists found three shell pendants and four pendants made of polar fox bones, trimmed with spiral cutting. Those things were found on the square of about ten square meters. Furthermore, those decorations are very important findings, for they are typical for ancient human beings that already looked like present-day people. This is very important.
According to the scientific opinion of our times, a sudden population change took place on the territory of Europe 34 or 35 thousand years ago. Neanderthal people had to give way to Homo sapiens that migrated from the Middle East. The things that were found in the Kostenki settlement, were found on the extreme eastern point of that migration outburst.
Speaking about the mammoth skeleton that was found during the excavations, the bones definitely refer not to archaeology, but to paleontology. Yet, the skeleton was found on the site, which was inhabited by ancient people during the period of 20 thousand years. This is a very rare and unique finding, which is not typical for the European territory. The skeleton was not dismembered, which means that the animal died itself.
A.Sinitsin, Candidate of archaeological sciences Science and Life Magazine
Translated by Dmitry Sudakov
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