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The DFG research programme “Funktionale Variabilität im späten Mittelpaläolithikum auf der Halbinsel Krim, Ukraine” (1999-2006)

From 1999 to 2006 the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) provided generous funding for the research programme “Funktionale Variabilität im späten Mittelpaläolithikum auf der Halbinsel Krim, Ukraine“. Within the frame of this project, new investigations were undertaken at both recently discovered as well as at previously excavated sites; Middle Palaeolithic assemblages were analysed with respect to both their function and their position within Middle and Upper Pleistocene land use systems; and new investigations concentrated on aspects of chronology, palynology, micro- and macro faunal remains, and site formation. Participating institutions comprised the Crimean Branch of the Ukrainian Academy of Science in Kiev, the Southern Methodist University, Dallas and the Institute of Prehistoric Archeology, University of Cologne. Natural science contributions were undertaken by different researchers from institutions in Russia, Ukraine, Poland, France, Belgium, Great Britain, USA, Canada and Germany (Contributors).

History of the Middle Palaeolithic Research of Crimea

The Crimean Peninsula is situated in the northern part of the Black Sea. The present-day peninsula is situated between 32° 30’ and 36° 40’ longitude and 44° 23’ and 46° 10’ latitude, and covers an area of 25.727 km2 (FERRING 1998, 17). It is connected with the Ukrainian mainland by the small land bridge Perokop. The peninsula is the anticline of a tectonic uplifted land mass where the Eurasian and the Southwest-Asian continents collide. While two thirds of the land mass are flat with maximum elevations rarely exceeding 180 m a.s.l., the southern part of Crimea is dominated by the Crimean Mountains which reach their highest elevations in the southwest near Yalta. The Crimean Mountains in the south rise from the third ridge in the north to the main ridge in the south from approximately 300 m to more than 1500 m above sea level. The bulk of Palaeolithic sites is situated within the second ridge at an average height of 500 m a.s.l

Fig. 1: The Crimean Peninsula.

Fig. 1: The Crimean Peninsula.

Crimea comprises three geographical zones: to the north there extends an area of steppe, part of the southern Ukrainian steppe zone; to the south is the Crimean Mountain chain; and in the east lies the small Peninsula Kertsch which separates the Black Sea from the Sea of Azov, an area dominated by low hills with maximum elevations of 200 metres. Crimea is characterised by two dominant ecological zones: whereas in the northern lowland and Kertsch there is a dry temperate zone dominated by Artemisia steppe, along the southern littoral there prevails a subtropical Mediterranean zone with mild winters and dry summers. This zone is protected from the influence of continental climate by the interconnecting, up to 60 km wide Crimean mountain range which extends from the western shore eastwards for over 160 km. The currently prevailing natural vegetation in the region has been heavily modified by modern agriculture. However, original vegetation can be reconstructed on the basis of average annual temperature and precipitation values. The steppe region is today covered by grass vegetation. The third mountain ridge in the north is covered by broad leaved forests. The second ridge shows forest steppe at lower and grass steppe vegetation at higher elevations. The summits, the so called ‘Yailas’, are covered by grassy vegetation (FERRING 1998, 17 ff.).

A lot of information concerning the history of research of the Crimean Middle Palaeolithic presented in the following, comes from the up to now most complete synopsis of that topic published in English language by V. P. CHABAI (CHABAI 1998, 1-15). Crimea is after a more than 100 year long history of research a key region for Middle Paleolithic investigations. At present, around 35 stratified and 76 non-stratified sites are known. With only a few exceptions these sites are all situated within the second ridge of the Crimean Mountain chain. In the early 1990s four Middle Paleolithic industries were known (KOLOSOV, STEPANCHUK, CHABAI 1993): Ak-Kaya industry, Starosele industry, Kiik-Koba industry and Western Crimean Mousterian. Today researchers agree that Ak-Kaya, Starosele and Kiik-Koba industries are functional facies of the Crimean Micoquian, which is itself part of the greater Eastern Micoquian complex. The Crimean Middle Paleolithic sites seem to show a geographical and typological dichotomy: a Western Group associated with the Western Crimean Mousterian (WCM) and the Starosele industry, and an Eastern Group with the Ak-Kaya and the Kiik-Koba industry. The border is marked by the River Salgir which flows through the province capital Simferopol. Whereas the Western Group is characterised by more or less ephemeral stations and camp sites in accordance with the specialised hunt on cold adapted quarry, like wild ass (Equus hydruntinus) and Saiga Antelope (Saiga tatarica), the Eastern Group shows a combination of more diverse hunting fauna with intensively used camp sites and displaying such features as fire places and pits. Remarkably, new investigations at sites such as Kabazi II, Kabazi V and Karabi Tamchin have demonstrated that the spatial distinction previously considered charcacteristic of the different industries cannot be upheld; for example, Ak-Kaya assemblages are now known from Western Crimea (Kabazi II and V) and WCM assemblages from Eastern Crimea (Karabi Tamchin). Nevertheless, functional differences can be observed, possibly due to different seasonal occupations of the sites within land use systems and to varying distances of the sites to raw material sources (UTHMEIER 2006).

Fig. 2: Investigated archaeological sites and their location.

Fig. 2: Investigated archaeological sites and their location.

Research into the Middle Palaeolithic in Crimea commenced in 1879 with the investigations of K. MEREJKOWSKI, a young student from St. Petersburg. His excavations at Volchi Grot and Siuren 1 and 2 led to the recovery of Palaeolithic stone artefacts which he correlated with the Mousterian finds known at that time from France and Spain. Unfortunately, MEREJKOWSKI died, and this early, fruitful phase of research in Crimea came to a temporary end.

Research was not continued until the 1920s when G. A. BONCH-OSMOLOWSKI investigated important Middle Paleolithic sites at Volchi Grot, Kiik-Koba, Chokourcha, Shaitan-Koba, as well as the Upper Palaeolithic sites at Siuren 1 and 2. Especially Kiik-Koba was of importance, it yielding two archeological horizons with Micoquian assemblages associated with Neanderthal fossils and numerous fire places and pits. His investigations at altogether 10 Palaeolithic sites cumulated in a first chronological division of Crimean Paleolithic industries comprising three early stages (early amorph stage with irregular flakes, notches and denticulates; late Acheuléen/ Micoquien with regular flakes, points and bifacial tools; late Moustérien/ Abri-Audi with blades, end scrapers, burins and parallel cores) and two late stages (early Upper Paleolithic/ Aurignacien with carinated end scrapers and Dufour bladelets; Late Paleolithic/ Azilien with backed pieces/ “Federmesser”) (G.A. BONCH-OSMOLOWSKI 1934, cited after CHABAI 1998).

Following the Second World War the archeologist A. A. FORMOZOV continued Palaeolithic research in Crimea. Surveys led to the discovery of Kabazi I, Kholodnaya Balka, as well as the famous site at Starosele. In only five field campains FORMAZOV carried out extensive excavations at all these sites. Between 1952 and 1956 he excavated in just a few months in each field season an area of 250 m2 at Starosele, in doing so identifying two Middle Palaeolithic levels which yielded a total of 12.000 artefacts, 60.000 faunal remains, and 15 fire places. The discovery of the so called “child of Starosele” that FORMOZOV interpreted as Pleistocene remains, caused a scientific controversy. On the grounds of stratigraphical uncertainties FORMOZOV’s taxonomical classification was already being criticised in the 1950s by S. N. ZAMYATNIN, and in the course of new excavations under the direction of A. E. MARKS and V. P. CHABAI between 1993 and 1995 it could be shown that these remains in fact stemmed from a medieval cemetery (see below).

During the 1950s the view was established that different “archaeological cultures” persisted within a given region that were characterized by a specific style concerning lithic artifacts and which underwent a single chronological development. As a result “archaeological cultures” were understood as ethnic cultural traits. In this context FORMOZOV proposed a simple model of two ethnic units: one characterized by the presence of bifacial tools, another by the presence of simple tools with just a modification of the working edges (FORMOZOV 1954). In search of an appropriate descriptive system the type-list of F. BORDES (1961) was applied to the Palaeolithic of the Russian plain. KLEIN (1965) and GLADILIN (1966) emphasized that assemblages of the Crimean Middle Paleolithic were not in accordance with Western European typology due to the presence of deviating Eastern European point types. Thus, GLADILIN (1976) established a modified typology on the basis of the BORDES type list. He proposed altogether six middle Palaeolithic industries in accordance with the ratio of bifacial and denticulated tools, and the presence and absence of different core types (CHABAI & DEMIDENKO 1998, 35-38). This approach was broadly accepted by Eastern European scientists.

In the meantime, between 1969 and 1974, further Palaeolithic field work was undertaken in Crimea by Y. G. KOLOSOV. By concentrating on the upper slopes of the second ridge of the Crimean Mountains KOLOSOV discovered and partially excavated the abris Prolom I, Prolom II and Zaskalnaya IX, the collapsed rock-shelters Ak-Kaya III, Ak-Kaya IV, Zaskalnaya III, Zaskalnaya V and Zaskalnaya VI, as well as the open-air sites Sary-Kaya and Krasnaya Balka. All these sites yielded stratigraphic sequences with archeological horizons characterised by bifacial tools (UTHMEIER 2006, 99 ff.). In layers III and IIIa of Zaskalnaya VI a total of five Neanderthal burials could be documented. At Zaskalnaya V Homo neanderthalensis remains were also found. These anthropological remains showed without any doubt that the Crimean Middle Palaeolithic, at least the Crimean Micoquian, was the product of Neanderthal groups.

From the 1980s KOLOSOV supervised new technological and typological investigations of assemblages from old excavations. Additionally, new excavations and surveys were undertaken which led to the discovery and partial excavation of such key sites as Kabazi II. In the 1980s some 100 sites were already known, among them multi-layered sites like Chokourcha 1, Zaskalnaya V and VI, and Kabazi II.

From the tail end of the 1980s the political change that swept eastern parts of Europe finally made possible collaborations with researchers from the USA and Western Europe. These culminated in new investigations in Western Crimea at such multi-layered sites as Kabazi II, Starosele and the newly discovered site Kabazi V. The result was a detailed revision of Middle Palaeolithic industries of the Crimean Peninsula (KOLOSOV, STEPANCHUK & CHABAI 1993). According to techno-typological criteria the Middle Paleolithic of Crimea has been attributed to three different Micoquian industries with bifacial tool types: Ak-Kaya, Starosele and Kiik-Koba. A fourth industry characterised by the absence of bifacial types and the presence of the Levallois method was defined as Western Crimean Mousterian (WCM). By the end of the 1990s, after new investigations in western Crimea, it became clear that Ak-Kaya, Starosele and Kiik-Koba were only facies of the same Micoquian industry; differences are due to different stages of reduction and the average ratio of different tool types (CHABAI 2004). A further industry is characterised by the absence of both bifacial technology and Levallois concept. It exhibits thick flakes which are the result of the exploitation of cores similar to discoidal cores. Up to now it is only known from level 3 of Starosele: the Starosele-level-3 industry.

Between 1993 and 1995 new excavations at Starosele directed by A. MARKS, and in association with M. OTTE, were undertaken to provide a reevaluation of the results from 1950s excavations. KOLOSOV’s interpretation of the sediments as one geological unit bearing two archaeological horizons were shown to be incorrect. Altogether four archaeological horizons could be documented (levels 1-4) which could be attributed to the Starosele facies of the Eastern Micoquian (levels 1, 2, 4) and to the above mentioned Starosele-level-3 industry (level 3).

In the second half of the 1990s the focus of research turned to Eastern Crimea. The three multi-stratified Middle Palaeolithic sites Buran-Kaya III, Karabi Tamchin, and the already known site Chokourcha I, were investigated.

In 1990 first test pits were excavated at the rock shelter Buran-Kaya III by A. A. YANEVICH who had originally discovered the site. The excavations continued in 1996, 1997 and 2001 in a joint Ukrainian/ American project under the supervision of A. E. MARKS and A. A. YANEVICH, and in collaboration with M. OTTE from the Université de Liège (MONIGAL 2004). The stratigraphy of Buran Kaya III contains six archeological horizons (levels A, B, B1, C, D, E) that show interstratifications of both Middle and early Upper Paleolithic assemblages, and further layers most probably attributed to the Epi-Gravettian (levels 6-1, 6-2) (DEMIDENKO 2008). The Eastern Szeletian/ Streletskayan assemblage of level C, up to now the only known example in Crimea, is situated below an archeological horizon containing an assemblage that is attributed to the Kiik Koba facies of the Crimean Micoquian (layer B1).

In 1996 V. P. CHABAI and A. I. YEVTUSHENKO discovered the Middle Paleolithic site Karabi Tamchin, with Kiik-Koba, Kosh-Koba and Adji-Koba, one of the few sites situated in the third ridge of the Crimean Mountains (YEVTUSHENKO 2004, MARKS & CHABAI 2006). In the same field season they could detect the presence of in situ Pleistocene sediments at Chokourcha I.

Between the years 1999 and 2006 further investigations at Chokourcha I, Kabazi II, Kabazi V, Starosele, Karabai, Karabi-Tamchin etc. were undertaken in collaboration with the Academy of Science Kiew (Ukraine), the Southern Methodist University, Dallas (USA) and the Institute for Prehistoric Archaeology of the University of Cologne (Germany) in the course of the research project “Funktionale Variabilität im späten Mittelpaläolithikum auf der Halbinsel Krim, Ukraine” financed by the DFG (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft). The field work was undertaken by the Ukrainian team under the supervision of V. P. CHABAI and A. I. YEVTUSHENKO.

In the course of the DFG research program assemblages from Kabazi II, Kabazi V, Starosele, Buran-Kaya III, Chokourcha 1 and Kiik-Koba were analysed according to functional and technological issues by the Cologne team under the supervision of J. RICHTER and T. UTHMEIER, the basis for the investigation of lithic assemblages being newly developed methodical approaches. In the course of Transformation Analysis the on-site transformation of different imported lithic raw material units (such as original cores or raw nodules) which constitute a given lithic assemblage is reconstructed. By means of the Analysis of Operational Chains the technological repertoire within a given industry is investigated. While the Transformation Analysis focuses on the on-site transformation of whole artefact assemblages, the Analysis of Operational Chains deals with the transformational changes within the biography of individual stone artefacts (for further methodological information please go to the page ‘Methods’).

After the Second World War the dichotomy of Moustérien and Micoquien industries in Western and Central Europe was explained as the material expression of two distinct cultural entities which were interpreted as different ethnic groups (BORDES 1961, BOSINSKI 1967). In the late 1960s this cultural view was rejected by L.R. BINFORD and S. BINFORD (1966) who proposed a functional explanation for the coexistence of different typological complexes of the French Moustérien. They assumed the distinctions between different industries as the result of different activities which resulted in the production of different tool types. In the 1990s RICHTER (1997) was able to attest the interstratification of both Mousterian and Micoquian assemblages in the upper layers (“G-Komplex”) of the Sesselfelsgrotte in Southern Germany (Altmühltal, Bavaria). He gave a functional interpretation for the coexistence of Mousterian and Micoquian inventories due to the time of occupation and the resulting reduction of lithic artefacts.

The target aim of the DFG-research project was to cope with functional variability of the Crimean Middle Palaeolithic. This question is due to investigations of the last fifteen years that lead to the conclusion of the high variability of Middle Paleolithic inventories which is in parts the result of time and season of occupation and the function of a given site. Different parameters of the natural environment and the cultural behavior of the concerned Neanderthal groups have been taken into consideration to develop models of late Middle Palaeolithic land use strategies.

Guido Bataille


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BONCH-OSMOLOWSKI, G. A. (1934) The results of the investigations in the Crimean Paleolithic. In: The Proceedings of the Second International Congress of the Association for the Quaternary Investigations in Europe 5. Leningrad, Moskau, Nowosibirsk 1934, 114-183. (in Russian).

BORDES, F. (1961) Typologie du paléolithique ancient et moyen. Publications de l’Institut de Préhistorique Francaise 50, 1953, 457.466.

BOSINSKI, G. (1967) Die mittelpaläolithischen Funde im westlichen Mitteleuropa. Köln Graz 1967.

CHABAI, V. P. (1998) The History of Crimean Middle Paleolithic Studies. In: MARKS, A. E. & V. P. CHABAI (eds.) The Middle Paleolithic of Western Crimea, Vol. 1. ERAUL 84. Liège 1998, 1-16.

CHABAI, V. P. (2004) The Middle Paleolithic of Crimea: stratigraphy, chronology, typological variability & Eastern European context. Simferopol 2004. (in Russian).

CHABAI, V. P. & DEMIDENKO, Y. E. (1998) The Classification of Flint Artifacts. In: MARKS, A. E. & V. P. CHABAI (eds.) The Middle Paleolithic of Western Crimea, Vol. 1. ERAUL 84. Liège 1998, 35-38.

CHABAI, V. P. & UTHMEIER, T. (2006). Settlement systems in the Crimean Middle Palaeolithic. In: CHABAI, V. P., RICHTER, J. & Th. UTHMEIER (eds.) Kabazi II: The 70000 Years since the Last Interglacial. Palaeolithic Sites of Crimea. Vol. 2. Simferopol-Cologne 2008, 297-359.

DEMIDENKO, Y. E. (2008) The Early and Mid-Upper Paleolithic of the North Black Sea region: an overview. Quartär 55 (2008), 99-114.

FERRING, C. R. (1998) The Geologic Setting of Mousterian Sites in Western Crimea. In: MARKS, A. E. & V. P. CHABAI (eds.) The Middle Paleolithic of Western Crimea, Vol. 1. ERAUL 84. Liège 1998, 17-30.

FORMOZOV, A. A. (1954) The Starosele site near Bakchisarai, as the place of discovery of a fossil human. Soviet Ethnography 1, 1954, 11-22. (in Russian).

GLADILIN, V. N. (1966) The distinct types of stone industries in the Mousterian oft he Russian Plain and Crimea and their place in the Early Paleolithic oft he USSR. In: RYBAKOV, B. A. (Red.) Proceedings of the VIIth international congress of proto- and prehistorians in Prag. Moskau 1966, 14-18. (in Russian).

GLADILIN, V. N. (1980) The principles and criteria oft the Early Paleolithic subdivision. In: ARTEMENENKO, I. I. (ed.) Prehistoric Archeology – research and finds. Kiew 1980, 21-38. (in Russian).

KLEIN, R. G. (1966) The Mousterian of European Russia. Ph. D. Dissertation, University of Chicago 1966.

KOLOSOV, V. G., STEPANCHUK, V. N. & V. P. CHABAI (1993) The Early Paleolithic of the Crimea. Kiev 1993. (in Russian).

MARKS, A. E. & V. P. CHABAI (2006) Stasis and Change during the Crimean Middle Paleolithic. In: HOVERS, E. & S. L. KUHN (eds.) Transitions Before the Transition. Evolution and Stability in the Middle Paleolithic and Middle Stone Age. Tucson, Arizona 2006, 121-135.

MONIGAL, K. (2004) Introduction to the Site of Buran-Kaya III. In: CHABAI, V. P., K. MONIGAL & A. E. MARKS (eds.) The Middle Paleolithic and Early Upper Paleolithic of Eastern Crimea, Vol. 1. ERAUL 104. Liège 2004, 34-18.

RICHTER, J. (1997) Sesselfelsgrotte III: Der G-Schichten-Komplex der Sesselfelsgrotte – Zum Verständnis des Micoquien. Quartär-Bibliothek 7. Saarbrücken 1997.

UTHMEIER, Th. (2006) Landnutzungsmuster im Mittelpaläolithikum der Halbinsel Krim, Ukraine. Ein Beitrag zu Ökonomie und Soziologie der Neandertaler. Habilitation. Philosophische Fakultät der Universität zu Köln 2006. (not published).

YEVTUSHENKO, A. I. (2004) The Site of Karabi Tamchin: Introduction. In: CHABAI, V. P., K. MONIGAL & A. E. MARKS (eds.) The Middle Paleolithic and Early Upper Paleolithic of Eastern Crimea, Vol. 1. ERAUL 104. Liège 2004, 277-282.