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Middle Paleolithic Industries of Crimea

Table of Contents

The Crimean Peninsula is a core region for Middle Palaeolithic research in Eastern Europe. Important and widely distributed Eastern European Middle Palaeolithic industries partially coexisted here within the same area: the Western Crimean Mousterian as a variant of the Eastern European Levallois Mousterian, the Eastern Micoquian which is represented by three facies in Crimea (Fig. 1). However, the so called Blade Mousterian, known from Shlyakh situated in the Don River Basin and from Belokuzminkova, layer I in the Seversky Donets Basin, is not present at the Peninsula (CHABAI ET AL. 2004).

Western Crimean Mousterian
Fig. 1: Crimean Middle Palaeolithic sites (Bataille 2010).

Fig. 1: Crimean Middle Palaeolithic sites (Bataille 2010).

The Western Crimean Mousterian industry was defined on the assemblages of Unit II of the Western Crimean site Kabazi II (CHABAI 1998b, KOLOSOV ET AL. 1993). Aside from Kabazi II, with its important archeological sequence, it is known from three further stratified sites: Shaitan-Koba, Karabi Tamchin and Kabazi V (Fig. 1).

The Western Crimean Mousterian has been put into the context of the Eastern European Levallois Mousterian which is known from three regions: Prut and Dniester and the Crimean Peninsula. The earliest occurrence of the Levallois Mousterian industry is known from the river valleys of Prut and Dniester; those assemblages are attributed to the Eemian Interglacial (CHABAI ET AL. 2004). This variant of Eastern European Levallois Mousterian is alternatively called ‘Molodova-Mousterian culture’. It is represented by stratified sites like Yezupil, layer III, Molodova I, layers I-IV and Molodova V, layers 11-12 (SITLIVY & ZIEBA 2006, 370 f.). According to SYTNIK it is characterized by the Levallois method and in addition to that the production of blades; knives, points and side-scrapers are the prevailing tool classes, while bifacial tools are missing completely (SYTNIK 2000, after SITLIVY & ZIEBA 2006, 370).

The Eastern Micoquian which appears during the Last Interglacial in Crimea (Kabazi II, Units V and VI) is, if in stratigraphical context with the Western Crimean Mousterian, always found below the Mousterian occupations. Exceptions are interstratifications between both industries in the Kabazi V sequence (CHABAI, RICHTER & UTHMEIER 2008). The Western Crimean Mousterian is not present in Crimea before the second half of MIS 3 (Fig. 2). Its eldest inventories occur within Hosselo Stadial (Kabazi II, level IIA/2). The youngest assemblages are attributed to the Denekamp / Arcy Interstadial (Kabazi II, levels II/IA, A3A-A4) (CHABAI 2006, GERASIMENKO 2005). In Crimea, if stratified with Micoquian sequences, it always overlays the latter. Absolute dates and pollen analysis indicate a later appearance of the Western Crimean Mousterian in Crimea than the Crimean Micoquian. Nevertheless, starting from Hosselo Interstadial both industries coexisted (see below): the Western Crimean Mousterian spans a time range between appr. 45 ka uncal. BP and 30 ka uncal. BP. The meaning of the coexistence of both Middle Palaeolithic entities is not satisfactorily explained until today. Ukrainian researchers tend to interpret this phenomenon as the co-occurrence of ‘two different traditions’ of ‘distinct social units’ which produced different sets of artefacts but shared similar land use and hunting strategies (e. g. CHABAI & UTHMEIER 2006, 357 f.). In contrast to that, Th. UTHMEIER (2006, 397 ff.) introduced a more functional explanation for the coexistence of both industries in the same geographic region. He assumes that the bearer of both techno-complexes share the same knowledge about lithic technology (‘concept reservoir B’). Following his arguments the differences between both industries are the result of seasonality and time of occupation (UTHMEIER 2006, 451 ff.).

Fig. 2: Chrono-stratigraphy of Crimean Middle and Early Upper Palaeolithic industries (Bataille 2010, after dates of Chabai 2005, Tab. 1-1 and Chabai 2006, Tab.1-1).

Fig. 2: Chrono-stratigraphy of Crimean Middle and Early Upper Palaeolithic industries (Bataille 2010, after dates of Chabai 2005, Tab. 1-1 and Chabai 2006, Tab.1-1).

The Western Crimean Mousterian is characterized by the presence of the Levallois concept, the production of blades from volumetric cores and the nearly complete absence of bifacial technology (Fig. 3). The unifacial façonnage is present but rare in Western Crimean Mousterian context (e.g. Kabazi II, level II/8). CHABAI (1998a, 2004) sub-divided this industry in an early stage with Levallois concept and a late stage with predominant uni- and bipolar volumetric blade concept. The early stage commences in the Hosselo Stadial and ends in the Huneborg Interstadial. It includes levels IIA/2 till II/7 of the Western Crimean site Kabazi II which exhibits twenty Mousterian levels (CHABAI 2004). The late stage reaches from the Stadial preceding Arcy (Denekamp) Interstadial through the whole Denekamp Interstadial. It is attestable in the uppermost archeological layers of Kabazi II (levels II/6-II/1A). In the early stage the preferential and the recurrent Levallois method for the production of Levallois flakes but also Levallois blades is present. The exploitation of uni- and bipolar volumetric cores during the late stage resulted in the production of blades which were struck by direct hard hammer technique. It has to be mentioned that this subdivision is not the result of a cultural evolution, since the reduction of volumetric blade cores is also known from Yezupil, layer III in the Prut/ Dniester region which dates to the last Interglacial (CHABAI ET AL. 2004, 444).

Simple flakes are dominating the Western Crimean Mousterian assemblages, often with elongated shapes. The latter were preferred for the modification of working edges.

The tool assemblages are dominated by simple side-scrapers with up to 60 % of all tools. In most cases different scrapers were produced on elongated flakes and blades, among them Levallois products. Another important feature is the presence of points with an average share of around 20 % and of converging scrapers which have an average share of up to 15 % of all tools (CHABAI 2004).

Irrespective the Upper Levels of Shaitan Koba, Kholodnaya Balka and Sub-unit III of Kabazi V most of the known Western Crimean Mousterian layers exhibit no features that speak for longer occupations, like fire places or pits (DEMIDENKO 2008a, CHABAI & UTHMEIER 2006). In nearly all cases we are dealing with ephemeral stations for the butchering of wild ass and Saiga antelope and the preparation of lithic raw material (Kabazi II).

Fig. 3: Artefacts of Kabazi II, Unit II, Levels 1, 7, 7AB, 8 – Western Crimean Mousterian (modified after Chabai 2004).

Fig. 3: Artefacts of Kabazi II, Unit II, Levels 1, 7, 7AB, 8 – Western Crimean Mousterian (modified after Chabai 2004).

Crimean Micoquian

The Crimean Micoquian is part of the Eastern Micoquian (EM) that can be traced all over the Eastern European distribution of Middle Palaeolithic evidence. It is present in a wide belt of sites known from a vast area reaching from the Prut and Dniester region in the West to the Northern Caucasus in the East (CHABAI ET AL. 2004). Its most striking characteristics are the presence of bifacial technology and the exploitation of unifacial discoidal cores while Levallois method and blade production are more or less absent. Like in Middle Europe, bifaces were regularly produced in plano-convex manner. In comparison to the Mousterian industries of Eastern Europe the Eastern Micoquian shows a wider distribution, since it is known from more or less all Eastern European regions were Middle Palaeolithic investigations have been carried out. The Eastern Micoquian is known from the Prut and Dniester region, Donbass-Azov region, the Lower Volga, the Northern Caucasus and the Crimean Peninsula (CHABAI ET AL. 2004).

The bearer of the Micoquian inhabited a forest-steppe and meadow steppe habitat. Comparable to the faunal assemblages known from Western Crimean Mousterian layers Neanderthals associated with Crimean Micoquian assemblages conducted specialized hunts on the small steppe adopted species wild ass (Equus hydruntinus) and Saiga antelope (Saiga tatarica). These taxa dominate most faunal assemblages in Western Crimea. In contrast to that, in Eastern Crimea the hunting fauna is more diverse (CHABAI ET AL. 2004).

The eldest representatives of the Crimean Micoquian are known from Unit VI of Kabazi II which is attributed to the end of the Eemian interglacial (MIS 5d). Earliest evidence outside Crimea is known probably from Ilskaya 1 near the Kuban River in the Northern Caucasus and layer 1 from Belokuzminovka 1 in the Donetsk Basin. The Micoquian sequence of the latter site has been dated by palynological studies to the Last Interglacial (Chabai et al. 2004, 427). In the Lower Volga Valley the first and most reliable evidence for the Micoquian industry, also attributed to Eemian Interglacial, is known from the open-air site Sukhaya Mechetka showing the presence of plano-convex bifacial pieces. In the course of the following early glacial period, the number of sites and regions showing assemblages of the Eastern Micoquian increases. During Moershoofd Stadial Micoquian occupations are securely detected in the Prut-Dniester region (Yezupil, layer II), in the Donets region (Nosovo I) and probably in the Middle Don area and the Northern Caucasus. The youngest dates are settled in Denekamp Interstadial (Buran-Kaya III, level B1) (CHABAI ET AL. 2004). In Crimea, the Micoquian industry is subdivided into three facies, whose main differences are the average share of different tool types and further the reduction state and due to that the different sizes of lithic artefacts. Those facies are named after eponymous sites: Ak-Kaya, Starosele and Kiik-Koba.

In contrast to the Western Crimean Mousterian, according to MARKS and CHABAI (2006, 121) the Crimean Micoquian “exhibited only limited mobility” with territories usually not expanding across the borders of Crimea. While the Mousterian occupations are ephemeral camps (Kabazi V) and butchering stations (Kabazi II) the Micoquian occupations show both ephemeral and longer occupied camp sites. These camp sites show features like fireplaces, pits and burials (CHABAI & UTHMEIER 2006). While from a technological point of view, the lithic assemblages of Micoquian and Mousterian sites show clear differences, the adaptation to the natural environment does not seem to deviate: e. g. sites of both industries are known from the same geographical and topographical situations, the same taxa were hunted, and the same flint raw material sources were exploited. In three of four stratified sites the Crimean Micoquian occupations regularly underlay the Western Crimean Mousterian occupations. On the contrary, in Kabazi V interstratifications of both industries could be attested, partially in one and the same archaeological layer. The latter was interpreted as mechanical mixture of occupations of distinct archaeological ‘groups’ (e. g. CHABAI 2008, VESELSKY 2008).

Ak-Kaya facie

This facie is known from a number of Crimean sites, like Ak-Kaya III, Zaskalnaya III, V, VI, Sary-Kaya, Chokourcha I, Kabazi II and Prolom II. Kabazi II yields the longest sequence of Ak-Kaya assemblages reaching from the end of the last interglacial (MIS 5d) until the Hosselo Stadial (MIS 3). The latest known evidence is attested in layer II of Zaskalnaya VI with an uncalibrated AMS-age of 35.000 ± 900 BP (CHABAI 2004).

Technologically and typologically Ak-Kayan is defined by the presence of bifacial technology and a small share of blades. Typical for all Crimean Micoquian facies, bifacial tools regularly show a plano-convex cross-section (Fig. 4). They are produced on thin plaquettes from flint and chert (DEMIDENKO 1996; CHABAI 1998b). Side scrapers account for up to 50 % of all tools, among them uni- and bifacial surface shaped pieces. On the contrary, points amount to only 10 % of all tools while convergent scrapers sum up to 35 % of all tools (CHABAI 2004, 301f.). Typical attributes are backed knives (Keilmesser) of the types ‘Bockstein’, ‘Klausennische’ and ‘Pradnik’ / ‘Ciemna’ according to BOSINSKI (1967) and RICHTER (1997). Due to the small amount of facetted striking platforms and the rarity of preferential Levallois cores it is assumed that the Levallois concept is generally missing in the Ak-Kaya inventories, though in Zaskalnaya V (layers III and IV) Levallois cores are present. This occasional occurrence was interpreted as the result of mechanical mixture of Western Crimean Mousterian and Micoquian occupations (CHABAI, MARKS & MONIGAL 2004). As mentioned above, this view was rejected by UTHMEIER who proposed the idea of the Levallois concept as part of a common ‘concept reservoir’ of Micoquian and Mousterian industries (UTHMEIER 2006). The association of the Ak-Kaya facie with Homo neanderthalensis is evident since nine Neanderthal fossils could be documented in direct context with Ak-Kaya assemblages.

Fig. 4: Artefacts of Kabazi II, Unit III, Levels 1A, 2, 5 – Eastern Micoquian, Ak-Kaya facie (modified after Chabai 2006).

Fig. 4: Artefacts of Kabazi II, Unit III, Levels 1A, 2, 5 – Eastern Micoquian, Ak-Kaya facie (modified after Chabai 2006).

Kiik-Koba facie

This facie is known from three rock-shelters: the eponymous site Kiik-Koba (upper level), Buran-Kaya III (layer B) and Prolom I (upper and lower level) (DEMIDENKO 2002, 140 ff.). All of those sites show low sedimentation rates with occupations that are “densely packed by artefacts and bones palimpsests” (CHABAI 2004, 302). Additionally, artefacts of Kiik-Koba type could be found within the lower layer of the 1920’s excavations of Siuren 1 and within their in the 1990’s excavated pendants Units “H”-“G” (BONCH-OSMOLOVSKI 1934; DEMIDENKO 2003). Pollen and micro-faunal analysis temporarily connects the Buran-Kaya III assemblage with Denekamp (Arcy) Interstadial. This chronological assignment confirms the very late absolute dates of Prolom I and Buran-Kaya III. Uncalibrated AMS dates of Buran-Kaya III, layer B are 28.840±460 ka BP and 28.520±460 ka BP. Radiocarbon dates of Prolom I are 30.510±580/500 ka BP and 31.300±630/580 ka BP (CHABAI 2004).

In general, the Kiik-Koba facie is characterized by small sized stone artefacts, most of the time not longer than 4-5 cm (CHABAI 2004) (Fig. 5). Flakes were struck from discoidal, radial and unidirectional cores. The same tool types as in the Ak-Kaya facie are present. The lithic assemblages of Kiik-Koba levels only deviate in the different share of those tool types. Points have a share of up to 40 % of all tools. Those points are composed of simple pieces with only edge modification and in plano-convex manner surface shaped tools (STEPANCHUK 2002, after UTHMEIER 2006). Bifacial tools have an average share of 15 %, but deviating from Ak-Kaya assemblages, only few backed knives occur. The common convergent and simple side scrapers have been produced on flakes with lateral point of percussion and thus have a triangular shape.

In the last decades the ‘Kiik-Kobian’ was understood as an isolated industry. Since the 1990’s a view has been put forward, that understands Kiik-Koba assemblages as facie of the Crimean Micoquian industry (DEMIDENKO, 2003, 2004; CHABAI 1998). This facie is characterized by small sizes of stone artefacts and a high degree of rework. This can be explained by a long time of usage and following a pronounced stage of reduction, what can especially be seen on the typical bifacial points of this industry.

Fig. 5: Artefacts of Buran-Kaya III, Level B1 – Eastern Micoquian, Kiik-Koba facie (modified after Demidenko 2004).

Fig. 5: Artefacts of Buran-Kaya III, Level B1 – Eastern Micoquian, Kiik-Koba facie (modified after Demidenko 2004).

Starosele facie

This facie is known from the Middle Palaeolithic sites Kabazi V, GABO, Zaskalnaya V (layers I and IV), Zaskalnaya VI, (layers IV and V); Prolom II (layers II and III), Chokourcha I (level IV-O), Karabi Tamchin (levels IV/2 and V) and the lower units of Formozow’s excavations of the eponymous site Starosele (level 1).

The oldest assemblage is probably Karabi Tamchin, level V which is attributed latest to “one of the Early Glacial Interstadials (Amersfoort, Brörup, Odderade)” (YEVTUSHENKO ET AL. 2004). Level 2 of Starosele is attributed to the Moershoofd Interstadial of the early MIS 3, but it has no clear affinity to the Starosele facie. The youngest inventory is Layer I of Zaskalnaya V which is attributed to the Arcy/ Denekamp Interstadial (CHABAI 2004).

The differences between Ak-Kaya facie and Starosele facie are of statistical nature, concerning the average presence or absence of different tool types. Typical features are bifacial points and side scrapers as well as bifaces (‘Halbkeile’) (Fig. 6). Bifacial points and side scrapers have an average share of 15 % of all tools. Unifacial convergent side scrapers and points have an average share of up to 45 % of all tools. Backed knives (Keilmesser) are in contrast to the Ak-Kaya facie underrepresented (up to 10 % of all tools). The average tool sizes are smaller than in Ak-Kaya assemblages, probably due to a more pronounced state of reduction. Concerning the tool sizes, Starosele lies in between Ak-Kaya assemblages with biggest average tool sizes and Kiik-Koba inventories with smallest sizes, what is possible due to different stages of reduction.

Two Neanderthal fossils could be documented in Prolom II in association with Starosele assemblages.

Fig. 6: Artefacts of Starosele, Level 1 and Kabazi V, Units 1 & 2 – Eastern Micoquian, Starosele facie (modified after Marks & Monigal 1998 and Yevtushenko 1998).

Fig. 6: Artefacts of Starosele, Level 1 and Kabazi V, Units 1 & 2 – Eastern Micoquian, Starosele facie (modified after Marks & Monigal 1998 and Yevtushenko 1998).

Starosele Level 3-Industry

This industry exhibits a flake industry which is up to now only known from Level 3 of the eponymous site of Starosele. Excavations were undertaken in the years 1993-1995 under the direction of A. E. MARKS. While an attribution of this industry to the Hengelo Interstadial (MIS 3) was assumed by RINK ET AL. (1998), today it is geo-chronologically settled within the Early Weichselian Ognon Stadial (MIS 4) (CHABAI & UTHMEIER 2006). Due to the presence of a fire place and the distribution of lithic artefacts, which show clear bordered concentrations a primary context of the Level 3 assemblage was suggested (MARKS & MONIGAL 1998).

The main features are thick flakes that suggest a variant of the discoidal concept in which only one flaking surface of the cores was exploited (Fig. 7). CHABAI ET AL. (2002) postulated that the main reason for this specific variant of core exploitation was the usage of flat raw nodules. Marker pieces for a discoidal exploitation are Pseudo-Levallois points and Pseudo-Levallois flakes as well as asymmetric points. At the end of the chaine opératoire thick flakes with crested remnants were struck from cores whose convexities were produced by steep retouch. Levallois method and bifacial technology lack completely.

In comparison to other Middle Paleolithic sites of Western Crimea, a longer occupation at Starosele Level 3 was suggested due to the intensity of the occupational surface and the high amount of imported unprepared raw nodules and their intense on-site exploitation (CHABAI ET AL. 2002).

Fig. 7: Artefacts of Starosele, Level 3 – Starosele Level 3-industry (modified after Marks & Monigal 1998).

Fig. 7: Artefacts of Starosele, Level 3 – Starosele Level 3-industry (modified after Marks & Monigal 1998).

“Eastern Szeletian” / “Streletskaya Industry”

This industry is only known from level C of the partially collapsed rock shelter Buran-Kaya III. It is described as early Upper Paleolithic industry, for which a resemblance is seen with the Kostenki-Streletskaya industry of Kostenki 1 (layer V), Kostenki 12 (layer III) in the Mid Don region and Biryuchiya Balka 2 at the Lower Don river (MONIGAL 2004a, 2004b, DEMIDENKO 2008b). Buran-Kaya III, Level C shows a mixture of Middle and Upper Paleolithic features, but with no clear relations to Crimean Middle Paleolithic industries. Like the Crimean Micoquian bifacial surface shaping occurs. Admittedly, deviating from Micoquian bifaces, the pieces are manufactured in bi-convex manner. This assemblage is the only Crimean and at the same time very rare example from the whole European perspective of an early Upper Palaeolithic industry in an interstratified position, situated below a Middle Palaeolithic archeological layer (Level B1/ Kiik-Koba facie). Buran-Kaya III, Level C has been attributed to the Stadial between Hengelo and Denekamp/ Arcy Interstadial with uncalibrated AMS-dates between 32 ka B.P. and 36 ka B.P (MONIGAL 2004a).

The presence of geometrical microlithes and biconvex leaf points deviate the level C assemblage from all other known Crimean Middle Paleolithic industries (Fig. 8). The foliates of Buran-Kaya III have a certain similarity to those known from the Streletskayan levels of Kostenki 1, but in most cases still differ in shape and thickness. The trapezoidal microlithes differ from those known from the Middle Don Region, which feature triangular shapes, as well. The discrepancies between microlithes of the Mid-Don region and Crimea have been explained as adaptation to different environmental conditions in those regions (MARKS & CHABAI 2006). While in the Mid Don region Streletskayan “groups” were adopted to a taiga forest habitat they had to cope with steppe conditions in Crimea (CHABAI 2004; CHABAI ET AL. 2004). Among the bifacial tool types backed knives are the most common ones and resemble the ‘Königsaue Typ A Keilmesser’ but are thinner in cross-section and more finely worked (MONIGAL 2006). A further peculiarity of this industry is the presence of so called ‘bone tubes’ which resemble pieces from the Western European Châtelperronian and Aurignacian context but are absent in ‘Streletskaya’ assemblages of Kostenki (D’ERRICO & LAROULANDIE 2000, 237 ff.) (Fig. 9). Those tubes were made of long-bones of hare, wolf and probably horse and are interpreted as handles hafted with stone tools (LAROULANDIE & D’ERRICO 2004).

Like in the Don region, no human fossil remains are associated to that industry in Crimea – thus a secure attribution of Streletskaya/ Eastern Szeletian industry to whether modern human or Neanderthal is not possible.

Fig. 8: Flint artefacts of Buran-Kaya III, Level C – Eastern Szelettian / Streletskaya industry (modified after Monigal 2004b).

Fig. 8: Flint artefacts of Buran-Kaya III, Level C – Eastern Szelettian / Streletskaya industry (modified after Monigal 2004b).

Fig. 9: Bone artefacts of Buran-Kaya III, Level C – Eastern Szelettian / Streletskaya industry (modified after Monigal 2004b, 75 / Fig. 5-19).

Fig. 9: Bone artefacts of Buran-Kaya III, Level C – Eastern Szelettian / Streletskaya industry (modified after Monigal 2004b, 75 / Fig. 5-19).

Guido Bataille

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