Modern Human Colonization of the Siberian
Mammoth Steppe: A View from South-Central Siberia
Kelly E. Graf
Abstract Was the transition from the middle Upper
Paleolithic (MUP) to late Upper Paleolithic (LUP)
in Siberia the result of gradual, in situ cultural
change or abrupt change that resulted from multiple
recolonization attempts? Past studies have primar-
ily focused on chronology and typology in attempts
to reconstruct culture histories. As a result recon-
struction of hunter-gatherer ecology has been
limited to broad overviews and generalizations.
Questions regarding the processes of human coloni-
zation have largely remained unanswered. Explain-
ing the differences between MUP and LUP
behavioral adaptations and decision-making in the
Siberian mammoth steppe is critical to achieving
full understanding of the process of human coloni-
zation of the North during the late Pleistocene. This
study uses both radiocarbon and lithic technological
data from MUP and LUP sites located in the Enisei
River valley of south-central Siberia to address the
problem from a more comprehensive behavioral per-
spective. Chronological data demonstrate the MUP
and LUP in the Enisei region were separated by a
4000-year gap straddling the LGM, while lithic data
suggest MUP foragers before the LGM were making
different technological provisioning decisions than
LUP foragers after the LGM. Results of this study
indicate that the Siberian mammoth steppe was colo-
nized during multiple dispersal events.
Keywords Siberian Upper Paleolithic MUP
LUP Mammoth steppe Last Glacial Maximum
AMS Provisioning strategies
A long-time concern in Paleolithic archaeology has
been to define large-scale transitions from one archae-
ological phase to another (e.g., Middle to Upper Paleo-
lithic Transition) (Adams, 1998; Akazawa et al., 1998;
Goebel, 1993; Klein and Edgar, 2002; Hoffecker,
2002). These large transitions are interesting and
important in our understanding of human biocultural
evolution; however, what about the countless small-
scale transitions that are commonly neglected?
It is often an accumulation of small transitions that
lead to the large changes we see in the archaeological
record of hominid behavior and biocultural evolution
(Kuhn, 2006). This chapter focuses on a small-scale
transition: the ‘‘transition’’ from the middle Upper
Paleolithic (MUP) to late Upper Paleolithic (LUP)
in south-central Siberia. The MUP to LUP transition
is a much less known, but not any less significant,
transition that occurred in the evolution of modern
human behavior, allowing modern humans to
successfully spread into the periglacial regions of the
North (Straus, 1995; Goebel, 1999, 2002).
Modern Human Dispersal
into Northern Asia
Modern humans dispersed into temperate regions
of the globe such as Australia and Europe rather
rapidly (Gamble, 1994; Klein, 2000; Lahr and Foley,
K.E. Graf (*)
Center for the Study of the First Americans, Texas A&M
University, College Station, TX, USA
M. Camps, P. Chauhan (eds.), Sourcebook of Paleolithic Transitions, DOI 10.1007/978-0-387-76487-0_32,
Springer ScienceþBusiness Media, LLC 2009
1994); however, their expansion into empty, perigla-
cial regions of northern Eurasia may have been an
episodic process, taking tens of thousands of years
(Goebel, 1999). Upper Paleolithic settlement of
northern landscapes was constrained by extreme
environmental challenges that required the develop-
ment of complex technological and behavioral adap-
tations (Binford, 1990; Hoffecker, 2002; Oswalt,
1987). Today, the Arctic extends south to latitudes
between 708Nand608N (Krupnik, 1993; Young,
1989); however, during the late Pleistocene, arctic
conditions extended much further to the south—as
far as 508N (Velichko, 1984; Vorob’eva and
Medvedev, 1984; Zykina, 1999, 2003). The climate
across northern Eurasia during the late Pleistocene
would have been extremely continental and cold,
producing a Holarctic (often treeless) biome that sus-
tained large herbivorous faunal populations; a biome
often referred to as steppe-tundra (Vereshchagin and
Baryshnikov, 1982; Yurtsev, 1982) or mammoth
steppe (Guthrie, 2001) (Fig. 1). Consequently, the
dispersal of modern humans into the mammoth
steppe was a significant event in our past—one invol-
ving important changes in technology and behavior.
What We Know About the MUP
and LUP in Siberia
Hundreds of archaeological sites with Paleolithic
cultural occupations are known in Siberia. Many
sites are not dated by absolute techniques, but are
assigned to the Paleolithic based either on
stratigraphic contexts and/or typological compari-
sons (e.g., Abramova et al., 1991; Astakhov, 1986).
Of these, at least 100 sites have been dated by radio-
metric methods (Vasil’ev et al., 2002), and most are
situated along major river drainages and occur
south of 558N latitude (Fig. 2).
Although several sites reported to have Lower
Paleolithic artifacts have been offered as evidence
for initial human populations in Siberia (Astakhov,
1986; Chlachula, 2001; Drozdov et al., 1990, 1992,
1999; Mochanov, 1988, 1993; Okladnikhov, 1972;
Okladnikhov and Pospelova, 1982; Okladnikhov and
Ragozin, 1984; Waters et al., 1997, 1999), the ear-
liest unequivocal evidence comes from a handful of
southern Middle Paleolithic sites dating from about
125,000 to 50,000 years ago, and located in rela-
tively temperate regions (Abramova, 1984; Goebel,
1999; Powers, 1973). Based on lithic typology, these
sites likely represent a far eastern incursion into the
area by Neanderthals (Astakhov, 1990; Dere-
vianko, 1998; Derevianko and Markin, 1990; Goe-
bel, 1993; Goebel et al., 1993; Vasil’ev, 2001).
Southern Siberia was first settled by anatomi-
cally modern human populations, represented by
early Upper Paleolithic industries, as early as
46,000 calendar years before present (cal) BP
(Bazarov et al., 1982; Dolukhanov et al., 2002;
Goebel, 1993, 1999, 2004a; Goebel and Aksenov,
1995; Goebel et al., 1993; Lbova, 1996; Muratov
et al., 1982). Similar to earlier hominids, early
modern humans do not seem to have penetrated
subarctic Siberia. Modern human settlement of
the subarctic did not transpire until about
Fig. 1 Map of R. Dale
Guthrie’s mammoth steppe
(after Guthrie, 1990)
480 K.E. Graf
33,000 cal BP, when MUP hunter-gatherers may
have spread as far north as 718N, as evidenced by
the Yana RHS Upper Paleolithic site (Pitulko
et al., 2004).
The MUP occupation of Siberia lasted for about
9,000–10,000 years (33,000–24,000 cal BP), and is
represented by typical Upper Paleolithic technologies
broadly similar to those found in other regions of
Eurasia during this time period (Goebel, 1999;
Vasil’ev, 1993, 2000). MUP technologies are char-
acterized by flake and blade
production on fine-
grained silicate raw materials (or toolstones) (Fig. 3).
Blade size is variable, with small blades or bladelets
being most common. Although formal microblade
technologies appear to be absent (Abramova, 1989;
Goebel, 1999, 2002), some have argued that they
were actually incipient in the MUP (Derevianko,
1998; Kuzmin and Keates, 2005a, b; Kuzmin and
Orlova, 1998; Lisitsyn, 2000). Secondary reduction
is characterized by unifacial, bifacial, and burin
technologies, and tool forms include end scrapers,
side scrapers, bifaces,
gravers, burins, and retouched
Fig. 2 Map of Siberia with locations of major paleolithic sites
MUP blade cores are typically of the informally produced,
‘‘flat-faced’’ blade core variety noted in early Upper Paleo-
lithic sites of Siberia (Goebel, 1993). Only when they are
heavily reduced do they take-on a subprismatic shape.
Microblades are defined as very standardized, miniature
blades measuring 8 mm or less in width and less than
20 mm in length with the width maintained along the entire
length of the blade. Also, these are detached from specially
prepared microblade cores (Abramova, 1971, 1979b; Ander-
son, 1970; Markin, 1986).
Bifaces in MUP and LUP assemblages were not hand-axes.
MUP bifaces may have been choppers, knives, or scrapers.
LUP bifaces could have been projectile points, knives, scra-
pers, or wedge-shaped core performs.
Modern Human Colonization of the Siberian Mammoth Steppe 481
blades and flakes. Osseous tools (e.g., awls, needles)
and nonutilitarian artifacts (e.g., beads, figurines) are
common. Faunal assemblages primarily include
mammoth, reindeer, woolly rhinoceros, bison, horse,
red deer, hare, wolverine, fox, and birds (Ermolova,
1978; Vasil’ev, 2003b). Large semisubterranean dwell-
ings (often slab-lined with storage pits and hearths)
were constructed, and a wide variety of site types are
reported (Abramova, 1989, 1995; Abramova et al.,
1991; Bokarev and Martynovich, 1992; Ermolova,
1978; Medvedev, 1982; Vasil’ev, 2000, 2003a).
During the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM),
roughly 23,500–19,000 cal BP (Bowen et al., 2002;
Owen et al., 2002; Yokoyama et al., 2000), large ice
sheets expanded across northwestern Eurasia, cli-
matic conditions were extremely harsh, and large
mammal populations declined (Guthrie, 2003;
Svendsen et al., 2004). Sites dating to this time are
rare in Siberia and central Asia (Davis, 1998; Davis
and Ranov, 1999; Dolukhanov et al., 2002; Goebel,
1999; Graf, 2005; Surovell et al., 2005), suggesting
possible abandonment of the north by humans
(Fig. 4). This idea has been rejected by some who
argue that site density decline could be the result of
sampling biases and postdepositional processes,
and sufficient evidence indicates sustained settlement
Fig. 3 Middle Upper Paleolithic (A) artifacts: flat-faced
blade core (A.1); bladelet core (A.2); end scrapers (A.3–4);
retouched bladelets (A.5–7); burins (A.8–9); notch (A.10);
retouched blade (A.11); gravers (A.12–13); retouched blade-
like flake (A.14); side scraper (A.15); bone point (A.16); ivory
figurines (A.17–18: birds, A.19: Venus). A.1–4, A.9–10, A.15:
Sabanikha (Enisei River); A.5–8, A.11–14: Afanas’eva Gora
(Enisei River); A.17–19 Mal’ta (Angara River). (A.1–15
drawn by author; A.16 redrawn from Lisitsyn, 2000; A.17–
19 redrawn from Abramova, 1995). Late Upper Paleolithic
(B) artifacts: subprismatic blade core (B.1); wedge-shaped
microblade core (B.2); tortsovyi microblade core (B.3),
retouched microblade mid-sections (B.4–5); burins (B.6–7);
gravers (B.8–9); side scrapers (B.10–11); end scrapers (B.12–
13); slotted ivory point with intact microblade mid-section
(B.14); ivory ba
ˆton de commandement (B.15). B.1–3, B.6–8,
B.10–13: Kokorevo-1 (Enisei River); B.4–5: Kokorevo-2
(Enisei River); B.9: Kokorevo-3 (Enisei River); B.14–15:
Listvenka (Enisei River). (B.1, B.6–8, B.10–13 redrawn
from Abramova, 1979b; B.2–5 drawn by author; B.9 redrawn
from Abramova, 1979a; B.14–15 redrawn from Akimova,
et al. 2005)
482 K.E. Graf
of Siberia during the LGM (Barton et al., 2007;
Kuzmin and Keates, 2005a, b; Kuzmin and Orlova,
1998; Surovell and Brantingham, 2007; Vasil’ev
et al., 2002).
As climate ameliorated following the LGM,
LUP sites and associated technologies emerged in
southern Siberia and soon after appeared north
and east in arctic Siberia and Alaska by
14,000 cal BP (Dolukhanov et al., 2002; Goebel,
1999; Hoffecker and Elias, 2007; Vasil’ev et al.,
2002; Yesner, 2001). LUP tool stones are predo-
minantly fine-grained silicates, and primary reduc-
tion is typified by bifacial wedge-shaped and tort-
microblade core technologies as well as
blade and flake core technologies (Fig. 3). Micro-
blades are exceedingly standardized, measuring
5–8 mm wide (Abramova, 1971; Anderson, 1970;
Markin, 1986). Secondary reduction is character-
ized by unifacial, burin, and bifacial technologies.
Common tool forms are transverse burins, large
side scrapers, small end scrapers, gravers,
retouched microblades, retouched blades, and
retouched flakes. Osseous implements consist of
slotted points and knives inset with microblade
midsections (Abramova et al., 1991), and beads
and pendants are typical nonutilitarian artifacts.
Faunal remains include reindeer, red deer, bison,
mammoth, roe deer, argali sheep, wolf or dog,
hare, fox, and birds (Ermolova, 1978; Vasil’ev,
2003b). Single mammal species often dominate
faunal assemblages (Goebel, 1999). Dwellings,
when present, are ephemeral, containing a central
hearth with few lithic and faunal remains (Vasil’ev,
2003a). Sites typically occur on low terraces near
Fig. 4 Number of
occupations across Siberia
(data from Goebel, 2004a, b;
Vasil’ev et al., 2002)
alongside the GRIPss09 and
GISP2 oxygen-18 curves
showing warm and cold
oscillations during the last
third of the Upper
Pleistocene (data from
Johnsen et al., 2001; from
The closest English approximation of the Russian term
‘‘tortsovyi’’ is ‘‘end.’’ Tortsovyi microblade cores are pro-
duced on flakes, sometimes cobbles, in which microblades
are detached from the ends or margins of the flake or cobble
(Abramova, 1979b). In contrast, wedge-shaped microblade
cores begin as bifaces.
Modern Human Colonization of the Siberian Mammoth Steppe 483
rivers and lack interassemblage variability (Abra-
mova, 1979a, b; Abramova et al., 1991; Dere-
vianko, 1998; Ermolova, 1978; Petrin, 1986;
The MUP to LUP Transition in Siberia:
Archaeologically, the transition from MUP to LUP
in Siberia is most characteristically distinguished
by the addition of microblade technologies to the
tool-making repertoire. Typically, the transition is
viewed as a gradual process with in-place develop-
ment of microblades directly from Siberian MUP
blade technology (Derevianko, 1998; Lisitsyn,
2000). In contrast, Goebel (1999, 2002) has viewed
the transition as abrupt, resulting from the sudden
appearance of microblades after a hiatus in cultural
occupation (Goebel, 1999, 2002). This disagreement
seems to center on differing ways researchers
explain technological change in prehistory and the
problematic dating of several MUP and LUP
Microblade Emergence and Technological
Since early Soviet times and the inclusion of Marxist
thought in socio-economic studies, Russian archae-
ology has been considered a historical science with
archaeologists explaining cultural change as the
result of in-situ evolution of one cultural phenom-
enon into another (Davis, 1983; Gellner, 1980).
Archaeological technologies have deep-seated ori-
gins within previous technologies in an area. There-
fore, microblades emerged slowly from in-situ
microlithization of blade technology of the MUP
(Artem’ev, 2003; Derevianko, 1998; Derevianko
et al., 2003; Lisitsyn, 2000; Mochanov, 1977;
Although specific definitions of microblade core
reduction techniques are available in the literature
(Abramova, 1979b; Anderson, 1970; Artem’ev, 1999;
Bleed, 2002; Flenniken, 1987; Kobayashi, 1970;
Markin, 1986), many studies ignore these exact
definitions and assign exhausted subprismatic cores
and associated bladelets as ‘‘microcores’’ and ‘‘micro-
blades’’ (Derevianko et al., 2003; Lisitsyn, 2000,
1987; Vasil’ev, 1996). A direct link is assumed
between the increased use of small blades in MUP
sites and use of the formal microblade technologies
of the LUP. Therefore, MUP bladelet technologies
are regularly suggested as the progenitors of wedge-
shaped and tortsovyi microblade technologies (Aki-
mova et al., 2003; Artem’ev, 2003; Lisitsyn, 2000;
Vasil’ev, 1996). If this was the case, then why did
LUP flint-knappers continue to produce small blades
after microblade technologies were invented? Surely
small blade cores and bladelets could have resulted
from cores with relatively long use-lives and may
have nothing to do with the appearance of micro-
blades. Goebel (1999, 2002) contends that the specia-
lized wedge-shaped and tortsovyi microblade cores
and associated composite microblade tools of the
LUP may actually have roots outside of Siberia.
Timing of Microblade Emergence and LGM
The exact timing of microblade emergence is riddled
with several problems. Not only are there disagree-
ments about what microblades represent, but pro-
blematic dating of sites has further muddied the
waters. If the transition from the MUP to LUP
entailed gradual emergence and incorporation of
microblades into pre-existing Siberian Upper Paleo-
lithic toolkits, then there should be overlap in time
between the two techno-complexes. In contrast, if
the transition was abrupt and microblade technol-
ogy was novel to Siberian LUP toolkits, then there
should be a chronological gap between MUP and
Goebel (2002) proposed a chronological gap and
abrupt transition of the MUP to LUP, pointing
mainly to the equivocal nature of dates reportedly
spanning the LGM. Goebel (1999, 2002) suggests
MUP human populations dwindled to archaeologi-
cally invisible levels during the LGM because the
Siberian landscape lacked crucial fuel supplies
necessary for human survival. Similarly, other tree-
less Asian biomes may also have been devoid of
humans during this harsh climatic event (Davis
and Ranov, 1999).
484 K.E. Graf
Recent work investigating the latest Pleistocene
human colonization of the high Tibetan Plateau and
the potential use of yak dung as an alternative fuel
source suggests the amount of dung needed to sur-
vive may not have been available until human pas-
toralists domesticated the yak (Brantingham et al.,
2007; Madsen et al., 2006; Rhode et al., 2007).
Therefore, dung may have been an unreliable fuel
source during the LGM since large mammal num-
bers were low at this time. In Goebel’s (1999, 2002)
scheme, humans recolonized Siberia after the LGM,
when large mammal populations and trees
increased and fuel resources were more readily
available. This recolonization event is recognized
by the post-LGM arrival of the LUP and associated
microblade technologies (Goebel, 1999, 2002,
2004b). Various analyses of the radiocarbon (
data from Siberia have been found to support his
interpretation (Dolukhanov et al., 2002; Graf, 2005;
Surovell et al., 2005).
In contrast, Kuzmin and Keates (2005a, b; Vasi-
l’ev et al., 2002) argue that several sites date to the
LGM, and abandonment did not occur. Such sites
include the MUP cultural layers from Tomsk and
Shestakovo (Cultural Layer 17) in the Ob’ River
region, Tarachikha, Shlenka, and Ui-1 (Cultural
Layer 2) in the Enisei River region, Ust’ Kova and
Mal’ta in the Angara River region and LUP layers
from Mogochino-1 and Shikaevka-2 in the Ob’,
Novoselovo-6 in the Enisei, Krasnyi Iar-1 in the
Angara, Studenoe-2 in the Transbaikal region,
Mamakan-2 and Tesa in upper Lena River drai-
nage, and Ikhine-2 and Verkhne Troitskaia in Iaku-
tia. Each case is problematic; either the age is based
on a single date from a cultural occupation, the
geologic context of the date is questionable, or the
date is incongruent with other associated
minations from the site. Pettitt et al. (2003) have
warned against these various problems, arguing
that archaeologists should consider such
Keeping Pettitt et al.’s (2003) concerns in mind,
the only compelling LGM-aged
C date comes
from the Mal’ta burial: 19,880 –160 (OxA-7129)
BP (Richards et al., 2001). Although it does not
overlap with other dates from the site (Medvedev
et al., 1996), it is a direct age determination on
human bone and, as reported, seems to have
resulted from a properly pretreated sample
(Richards et al., 2001). More dates will confirm
the reliability of this age determination, but as it
stands, this direct date on human remains suggests
MUP peoples may have lingered in the Angara
River valley until the very beginning of the LGM
at about 24,000 cal BP. Even if this Mal’ta date can
be replicated, it does not suggest a direct tie to the
LUP sites that seem to post-date the LGM. Clearly,
we need to better understand the age and character
of the first microblade technologies in Siberia, and
studies testing chronological gaps and technological
differences need to be undertaken on a site-by-site
and region-by-region basis.
The above interpretations have been largely
based on the development of chronologies and
typologies (Abramova et al., 1991; Akimova et al.,
2005; Derevianko, 1998). Recently, a few attempts
have focused on reconstructing Upper Paleolithic
hunter-gatherer behaviors that generated site
assemblages (Goebel, 2002, 2004a; Vasil’ev, 1996),
but most of these are limited to literature reviews
(Goebel, 1999, 2004b; Vasil’ev, 1992, 1993, 2000).
Considerations of MUP and LUP hunter-gatherer
ecology and adaptive responses are largely lacking.
As a result, the questions addressed above remain
In this chapter, I take a first step in addressing
the emergence of microblades and abandonment
issues by comparing blade and microblade technol-
ogies of the MUP and LUP from one region—the
Enisei River in south-central Siberia. By doing so, I
characterize the nature of the transition in this
region to explain how it relates to the colonization
of the Siberian mammoth steppe.
Enisei River-Front Property: Sites
and Lithic Assemblages
Sites considered here are located along the Enisei
River between the city of Krasnoiarsk to the
north and the small village of Maina to the
south (Fig. 5). For several reasons, this region
provides an interesting laboratory for pursuing
the MUP to LUP transition. First, the area has
witnessed intensive archaeological fieldwork dur-
ing the past century, providing several Upper
Modern Human Colonization of the Siberian Mammoth Steppe 485
Paleolithic sites clustered in a single region. Sec-
ond, several artifact assemblages are relatively
large, and from well-documented and buried con-
texts. Finally, the Enisei River valley has also
been the focus of much paleoecological work,
providing a place where paleoenvironments can
be reconstructed for large parts of the last
glacial cycle (e.g., Frechen et al., 2005; Haesaerts
et al., 2005; Nemchinov et al., 1999; Tseitlin,
1979; Zander et al., 2003). Chronological consid-
erations and lithic analysis presented in this chap-
ter come from five MUP and five LUP sites
briefly discussed below.
Studied materials came from MUP and LUP
cultural layers from sites positioned in loess or flu-
vial deposits of river terraces along the Enisei River
(Table 1). Artifact distributions and features are
generally well-documented for these sites, and all
Fig. 5 Site location map.
MUP sites: (1) Kurtak-4,
Kurtak-5; (2) Afanas’eva
Gora; (3) Sabanikha; (4)
Ui-1. LUP sites: (5)
Afontova Gora-2, Afontova
Gora-3; (6) Novoselovo-7;
(7) Kokorevo-1, Kokorev-2
486 K.E. Graf
Table 1 Assemblage data for MUP and LUP sites
Lithic assemblage samples
ReferencesDebitage Cores Tools Total
31,500–26,500– cal BP
1,218 69 357 1,644 Lisitsyn (2000)
31,000–27,600 cal BP
1,163 84 44 1,291 Lisitsyn (2000), Svezhentsev
et al. (1992) and Drozdov
et al. (1990)
31,000–27,500 cal BP
4 8 51 63 Lisitsyn (2000)
28,800–19,600 cal BP
1,247 75 173 1,495 Vasil’ev (1996) and Vasil’ev
et al. (2005)
24,000 cal BP
1,209 51 205 1,465 Lisitsyn (2000)
19,500–15,500 cal BP
1,245 84 133 1,462 Abramova (1979b) and
26,000–24,400 cal BP
15 16 62 93 Tseitlin (1979), Astakhov
(1999) and Abramova et al.
19,000–15,300 cal BP
179 188 420 787 Astakhov (1999)
19,500–14,300 cal BP
1,190 75 158 1,423 Svezhentsev et al. (1992),
Abramova (1979a) and
Abramova et al. (1991)
16,300–13,800 cal BP
1,300 112 286 1,698 6,1
Radiocarbon ages are given at 2-s. These were calibrated using the Calib 5.0.1 (Intcal04 Curve) program (Reimer et al., 2004)
for dates 21,300
C BP and CalPal-Online (Calpal 2005 SFCP Curve) (Danzeglocke et al., 2005) for dates >21,300
No radiocarbon dates have been reported for Afanas’eva Gora and Afontova Gora-3. Ages for these sites are based on
correlation with radiocarbon-dated sites in similar stratigraphic situations.
Table 2 AMS radiocarbon samples and ages
layer; excavation square)
number Material d
C F Value Age estimate
Sabanikha CL AA-68665 Bulk Charcoal
–22.5 0.0368–0.0011 26,520 –250
Sabanikha CL AA-68666 Bulk Charcoal
–24.4 0.0395–0.0012 25,960 –240
Sabanikha CL AA-68667 Bulk Charcoal
–24.0 0.0410–0.0013 25,660 –250
Kurtak-4 Upper CL; K28-30/L28-29 AA-68668 Hearth Charcoal
–23.7 0.0315–0.0012 27,770 –310
Kurtak-4 Upper CL; K28-30/L28-29 AA-68669 Hearth Charcoal
–23.6 0.0436–0.0015 25,160 –280
Kurtak-4 Upper CL; K28-30/L28-29 AA-68670 Hearth Charcoal
–24.8 0.1099–0.0016 17,740 –120
Novoselovo-7 CL; A5 AA-68674 Bone –19.3 0.1794–0.0032 13,800 –140
Novoselovo-7 CL; A4 AA-68672 Bone –18.3 0.1868–0.0032 13,480 –140
C3; D2 AA-68663 Dispersed Charcoal
–25.4 0.1757–0.0017 13,970 –80
C3; D2 AA-68664 Dispersed Charcoal
–25.0 0.1778–0.0018 13,870 –80
C3; D1 AA-68662 Dispersed Charocal
–24.6 0.2168–0.0021 12,280 –80
Modern Human Colonization of the Siberian Mammoth Steppe 487
sites have yielded rich sets of faunal remains. MUP
materials came from the sites of Sabanikha, Kur-
tak-4, Kurtak-5, Ui-1, and Afanas’eva Gora, and
reportedly date from about 31,500–19,600 cal BP.
LUP materials reportedly span from about 24,400–
14,000 cal BP and include assemblages from the
sites of Novoselovo-7, Afontova Gora-2, Afontova
Gora-3, Kokorevo-1, and Kokorevo-2 (Abramova,
1979a, b; Astakhov, 1999; Lisitsyn, 2000; Vasil’ev,
The spread of modern humans into subarctic and
arctic Siberia and the transition from the MUP to
LUP are considered by addressing both the timing
of these techno-complexes and the technological
changes associated with them. Charcoal and bone
samples were gathered from curated collections
and submitted for AMS
C dating to aid in devel-
oping a firmer understanding of the timing of
MUP and LUP industries in the Enisei River
region. Lithic assemblages were analyzed to
inform on the technological changes from the
MUP to LUP and, ultimately, help define the
behaviors that produced these techno-complexes,
such as the way in which MUP and LUP foragers
were provisioning and organizing themselves on
To assess whether a chronological gap exists between
the MUP and LUP, both previously published and
C dates obtained from the sites discussed above
were evaluated using several criteria to ‘‘clean-up’’
C age estimates. The set of criteria I used
are discussed in more detail elsewhere (Graf, 2008),
but they are based primarily on Pettitt et al. (2003)
with added consideration of specific stratigraphic and
paleoecological contexts from each site. Any
deemed reliable were retained to establish a
chronology of occupation. Following evaluation,
C assays from the same cultural layer
were averaged by calculating a pooled mean to deter-
mine the age of a cultural occupation. Next, the
age ranges for each ‘‘occupation’’ were converted to
calendar years using the Calib 5.0.1 (INTCAL04
curve) program for dates 21,300
Pal-online (2007 H curve) for dates >21,300
(Danzeglocke et al., 2007; Reimer et al., 2004).
A total of 49
C age estimates are reported for
the sites studied here (Fig. 6). Of these, 11 are new
AMS determinations obtained at the NSF-Arizona
AMS facility in Tucson, Arizona and recently
reported in Graf (2008) (Table 1). Figure 6 shows
several noticeably problematic
C estimates that
cannot reliably date the age of these sites, ranging
from incredibly large standard deviations to the
abundance of outliers. After carefully considering
every date, 16 dates were found to be unreliable. For
instance, some of these dates did not overlap with
others from the same cultural layer at 2-sand could
be discounted based on questionable geological
contexts. Other dates had 1-serrors of >1,000
years, and therefore 2-sage ranges of >4,000
years, making them meaningless in establishing a
chronology. Figure 7 presents the reliable
remaining after evaluation.
Cultural occupation ages were identified by calcu-
lating pooled means of
C age estimates for each
cultural layer that overlapped at 2-s. Dates that did
not overlap at 2-s, but cannot comfortably be
rejected, are shown with a singe bar that encom-
passes the entire age range possible. Figure 8 presents
a new chronological curve in both
C and calendar
years for these cultural occupations. None of these
Enisei River sites unequivocally date to the LGM.
One very productive means of understanding Paleo-
lithic behavior is the study of the organization
of lithic technologies and provisioning strategies
(Binford, 1979; Kuhn, 1995; Nelson, 1991; Torrence,
1983). In this study, I reconstruct MUP and LUP
technological organization and provisioning to
explain similarities and differences in land-use orga-
nization. Hunter-gathers use their technologies to
In this essay I use the term ‘‘forager’’ as a synonym for hunter-gatherer.
488 K.E. Graf
Fig. 7 Radiocarbon chart
showing age ranges
determined to represent
good estimates after
Fig. 6 Radiocarbon chart
showing all age ranges at 2-s
(Abramova, 1979a, b;
Abramova et al., 1991;
Drozdov and Artem’ev,
1997; Lisitsyn, 2000; Tseitlin,
1979; Vasil’ev, 1996; Vasil’ev
et al., 2005; this study). Solid
black bars represent
previously reported age
ranges, and gray bars
represent new age ranges
obtained during this study
Modern Human Colonization of the Siberian Mammoth Steppe 489
extract food resources from the landscape; there-
fore, distributions of potential food resources
guide hunter-gatherer foraging and land-use
(Binford, 1980, 2001; Kelly, 1995). The decision to
select alternative land-use strategies will influence
foragers’ chances in effectively acquiring food
resources. The strategies used to exploit both lithic
and faunal landscapes and allow hunter-gatherers
to be consistently supplied or provisioned with
resources are complementary (Binford, 1979).
Therefore, the reconstruction of lithic provisioning
strategies can inform on hunter-gatherer foraging
and land-use (Kuhn, 1995).
With regard to technological provisioning, the
hands-on time expended in manufacturing stone
tools may not have been as important to hunter-
gatherers’ schedules as the actual time and energy
spent directly procuring lithic raw materials. To
some extent, hunter-gatherers have to plan for
future exigencies by provisioning themselves with
essential raw materials and stone implements
needed in food acquisition and processing. There-
fore, ensuring that lithic resources are always avail-
able, no matter the circumstances, is extremely
important. Technological provisioning, as sug-
gested by Kuhn (1995), can come in two basic
forms—provisioning individuals and provisioning
Highly mobile foraging groups need to plan for
future demands by supplying individuals with
Fig. 8 Chronology for
cultural occupations from
Enisei River sites included in
this study. Radiocarbon
years are presented below
and calendar years are above
490 K.E. Graf
ready-to-use tools and light-weight cores. When on
the move, predicting distance to toolstone sources
and maintaining tools are challenges that must be
anticipated. In situations where hunter-gatherers
provision individuals, an optimal use of artifacts
per weight is ideal, especially since carrying costs
of heavy artifacts would be too great for mobile
foragers (Kelly, 1988; Kuhn, 1995, 1992). Under
these circumstances, a provisioning-individuals
strategy minimizes the risk of not being prepared
for the next hunting and/or processing opportunity,
since lithic resource procurement is either unknown
Archaeologically, the more mobile groups are,
the more we would expect to find them provisioning
individuals with highly formalized toolkits. Tool-
stone procurement should be of both local and
nonlocal toolstones. Core technologies should be
formalized, prepared, and capable of withstanding
long use-lives. Cores should have been highly stan-
dardized to ensure the tool-maker could always
predict the outcome of production and mainte-
nance. Further, cores should be lightweight for
long-distance transport. Tool production should
be geared toward the manufacture of formal imple-
ments because these can be made in advance of use
and intensively curated or economized. Mobile for-
agers need to maintain a ready supply of tools or
raw material at all times (Kelly, 1988, 1995, 1996,
2001; Kuhn, 1995; Odell, 1996; Parry and Kelly,
A hunter-gatherer group that consistently resides
in one place or repeatedly revisits that place does
not necessarily need to plan for future lithic
resource shortfalls. This kind of hunter-gatherer
can afford to provision each place of occupation
(e.g., residential base, extraction location) with
lithic raw material because future needs can be
more effectively predicted. Such hunter-gatherers
are more familiar with local resources, they can
provision places with necessary toolstones by stor-
ing lithic resources acquired via logistical forays or
by positioning site locations at high-quality raw
material resource locations. Therefore, the strategy
of provisioning places typifies less mobile hunter-
gatherers (Kuhn, 1992, 1993, 1995).
Several aspects of the lithic artifact record can be
expected from hunter-gatherers who were provi-
sioning places. Toolstone procurement should be
predominantly local with some relatively nonlocal
resources obtained while foragers are out on logis-
tical forays. Core technologies should be informal
and unstandardized. Further, since transport of
cores is highly unlikely, cores should be relatively
heavy, since there would be no need for light-weight
core technologies. Tool production should be
geared toward manufacture of informal implements
because there is no need to make tools in advance of
use. Tool use-life should be relatively short with
tools discarded while theoretically still usable
(Kelly, 1988, 1995, 2001; Kuhn, 1995; Odell, 1996;
Parry and Kelly, 1987).
This paper presents preliminary data on tool-
stone procurement and primary and secondary
reduction technologies in an effort to reconstruct
Siberian Upper Paleolithic technological organiza-
tion and provisioning strategies. Lithic variables
include (1) frequency of raw material, (2) frequency
of secondary or alluvial cobble cortex, (3) frequency
of informal cores, (4) frequency of primary reduc-
tion technology types, (5) comparison of blade and
microblade widths, (6) frequency of tool production
types, and (7) frequency of formal tools.
The lithic landscape of most of Siberia is not well-
known, and unfortunately this is also case for the
Enisei River region. Few geological surveys have
been conducted, and the surface geology is nearly
unknown via publication (but see Malkovets et al.,
2003). Fine-grained lithic raw materials, especially
cryptocrystalline silicates (CCS) and quartzites
(Qzite), are readily available in river cobble form
along the Enisei and its many tributaries (Elena
Akimova, 2004, personal communication).
Undoubtedly, we are limited in what we can say
about the distances that toolstones traveled after
being procured. Nevertheless, some information
regarding their procurement can be gleaned from
the data by investigating variables such as frequen-
cies of raw materials and cortex types present in the
A comparison of raw material frequencies
from both sets of assemblages (Fig. 9) indicates
that MUP and LUP flint-knappers were regularly
procuring and utilizing relatively high-quality
Modern Human Colonization of the Siberian Mammoth Steppe 491
toolstones such as CCS, quartzite, meta-siltstone
(MS), and fine-grained volcanic (FGV) materials
in similar frequencies. Other lower quality tool-
stones (e.g., quartz, granite, diorite, sandstone)
were procured much less frequently. Likewise,
both techno-complexes do not vary in the
frequencies of secondary cortex on artifacts.
Overwhelmingly, secondary cortex is present on
these artifacts, suggesting many local toolstones
were being procured and consumed at all of the
sites. These data indicate that both MUP and LUP
sites served as retooling locations for high-quality
Comparing MUP and LUP primary reduction,
there are several differences (Fig. 10). The obvious
difference between the two techno-complexes is the
lack of microblade reduction technologies in the
MUP. Microblade reduction technologies employed
during the LUP include the manufacture of highly
formalized, bifacial, wedge-shaped cores, as well as
tortsovyi microblade cores.
Examination of the number of formal versus
informal cores indicates LUP formal core produc-
tion was much higher—nearly 40%, compared with
about 22% for the MUP. Formal cores are those
prepared before use and include blade, bladelet,
and microblade cores; whereas informal cores are
unprepared assayed cobbles, flake cores, and bipo-
Individual assemblage frequencies show
that LUP assemblages have much less variation in
the frequency of formal core production than the
MUP, possibly suggesting more standardization in
core production than in the MUP.
To further consider blade versus microblade
standardization, blade and microblade width mea-
surements are compared (Fig. 11). Variability
within MUP blades and LUP blades and between
MUP and LUP blades is considerably high, while
variability within microblades is extremely low.
Therefore, LUP microblade standardization is sig-
nificantly higher than either MUP or LUP blade
standardization. Another interesting pattern is
that most blades in the later MUP assemblages
(Ui-1 and Afanas’eva Gora) are smaller than
those in the more ancient Sabanikha assemblage,
though large blades were still being produced at
these later sites. These data indicate that blade
cores were more intensively reduced, possibly to
near-exhaustion at the sites of Ui-1 and
Overall, primary reduction during the LUP was
more formalized, standardized, and economized
Fig. 9 A comparison of MUP and LUP toolstone procurement: a) mean raw-material frequencies, b) mean secondary-cortex
frequencies. Circles represent individual assemblage frequencies
Bipolar cores were produced by percussor on anvil
492 K.E. Graf
Fig. 11 MUP and LUP blade (width) standardization. Com-
parisons between the techno-complexes are made for macro-
blades only, and comparisons within the techno-complexes
are made for MUP macroblades, LUP macroblades, and
LUP microblades. Boxplots show medians, lower quartiles,
upper quartiles, and outliers for each sample’s width
Fig. 10 A comparison of MUP and LUP primary reduction:
a) relative frequencies of flake, blade, and microblade
technologies by assemblage; b) mean formal core frequencies.
Circles indicate individual assemblage frequencies
Modern Human Colonization of the Siberian Mammoth Steppe 493
than in the MUP. The use of highly formalized micro-
blade cores was a time-intensive proposition that took
several steps in preparation and maintenance com-
pared with other core types. Nevertheless, their pro-
ducts—microblades—added a whole new dimension
to the already existing primary reduction techniques
previously available to Upper Paleolithic hunter-gath-
erers, by maximizing the number of cutting edges
from small transportable microblade cores.
An initial look at the manufacture of tools indicates
there are clear differences between MUP and LUP
assemblages. Considering the three major tool
production types—unifacial, bifacial, and burin
(Fig. 12)—more bifaces and burins were produced
during the LUP than the MUP, while more unifaces
were produced during the MUP. Bifaces are more
formal tool types than most unifaces, lending
themselves to maintainability and portability (Kelly,
1988). Burins were likely used in slotting osseous
points that were then inserted with microblade
midsections (Guthrie, 1983a, b), explaining their pri-
mary place as a component of this formalized LUP
tool industry. A consideration of formal versus
informal tool frequencies shows that more formal
tools were produced in LUP (64%) than MUP
(43%) assemblages. Formal tools include bifaces,
side scrapers, end scrapers, combination tools, multi-
ple spurred gravers, and burins. Informal tools
include retouched flakes, retouched blades, single-
spurred gravers, notches, denticulates, and unifacial
knives. Individual assemblage frequencies are more
varied for the MUP than LUP, indicating that dur-
ing the LUP more formal tools were consistently
produced compared to the MUP. Therefore, MUP
tool production was relatively informal and expedi-
ent. In contrast, LUP tool production was formal,
and highly curatable tools such as bifaces, burins,
and combination tools were produced more
The goal of this chapter is to characterize the nature of
the MUP to LUP transition in Siberia and to under-
stand the spread of modern humans into the North.
Several sites from the Enisei River in south-central
Siberia were studied to address this goal. Previous
work in the Enisei region has provided several well-
Fig. 12 A comparison of MUP and LUP secondary reduc-
tion: a) relative frequencies of unifaces, burins, and bifaces by
assemblage; b) mean formal tool frequencies. Circles indicate
individual assemblage frequencies
494 K.E. Graf
documented Upper Paleolithic site assemblages,
making this region an excellent place to begin inves-
tigating modern human dispersals in Siberia.
Evaluation of the
C dates from Enisei River
sites studied in this chapter indicates that none of
these cultural occupations unequivocally date to the
4,000 year period between about 24,800 and
20,700 cal BP. These preliminary data also point
to a possible chronological break in the region’s
archaeological record between the MUP and LUP;
therefore, supporting a decline in human popula-
tions during the maximum of the last glacial cycle.
The lithic technological data indicate an abrupt
behavioral transition between the two techno-com-
plexes as well, with the lithic expectations for pro-
visioning place generally met by the MUP, and
those for provisioning individuals met by the LUP.
Toolstone procurement was very similar between
the MUP and LUP, with the majority of lithic raw
materials locally procured by the makers of both
techno-complexes. Three important conclusions can
be drawn from these similarities. First, local raw
materials, found in the form of river cobbles and
readily available at numerous sites along the Enisei
River, were selected by both MUP and LUP hunter-
gatherers. Second, raw material scarcity was not a
concern for either MUP or LUP flint-knappers, and
therefore it did not affect their technological deci-
sions. Finally, site locations were likely selected for
their toolstone richness and thus became retooling
locations during the MUP and LUP, regardless of
the provisioning strategies employed.
Hunter-gatherers’ provisioning place should not
care to conserve lithic raw materials by preparing
formal core technology, especially when high-quality
raw materials are plentiful. When staying at the same
place for long periods, or repeatedly visiting such
locations, there is no need to standardize core tech-
nologies. In such cases, primary reduction will be
expedient and informal. MUP hunter-gatherers of
the Enisei region were consistently producing large
amounts of expedient, informal primary reduction
technologies, and many artifacts were discarded in
still-usable condition. Also, the blade and bladelet
cores that were produced were highly variable and
not significantly standardized. In contrast, LUP for-
agers had added standardized, formal microblade
production to their range of primary reduction tech-
niques. Small, lightweight microblade cores could
have produced many linear cm of cutting edge
(Guthrie, 1983a) so that the microblades from a
single core provided mobile LUP hunter-gatherers
with more cutting-edge per unit weight than any
other primary reduction technique, including the
oft-touted maximum cutting-edge producer, the
biface (Flenniken, 1987; Guthrie, 1983a, b; Parry
and Kelly, 1987; Kelly, 1988). Likely, when LUP
flint-knappers utilized less-formalized core reduc-
tion technologies, they selected these detached
pieces for use as either microblade cores blanks
or tool blanks. These data suggest LUP hunter-
gatherers were maximizing usable pieces within
their toolkits and provisioning individuals.
When hunter-gatherer provisioning is place-
oriented, secondary reduction strategies should be
informal and expedient, since there is no need to
make implements ready for transport between sites.
Tool production should focus on casual selection of
ready-to-use tool blanks with minimum prepara-
tion of the business end or edge so that the majority
of tools produced were informal such as lightly
retouched blades and flakes. MUP hunter-gatherers
produced higher quantities of informal than formal
tools, indicating no need for tool economization. In
contrast, tool production in LUP assemblages was
formalized. There are more formal than informal
tools, and microblade tool technology was
employed. Thus, tools were manufactured in antici-
pation of future use and were capable of being
repeatedly resharpened and economized. LUP hun-
ter-gatherers were likely provisioning individuals.
The formalization and standardization of both
primary and secondary reduction strategies indicate
LUP hunter-gatherers were mobile foragers who
provisioned individuals within the group. In con-
trast, the informal, nonstandardized, and expedient
nature of primary and secondary reduction strate-
gies of the MUP indicates these hunter-gatherers
were provisioning place and less mobile. Since high-
quality raw materials were readily available in the
form of river cobbles found at both MUP and LUP
sites, I must interpret these basic technological
differences between the two techno-complexes as
resulting from different human organizational stra-
tegies and not from the economization of scarce raw
materials by the LUP.
The technological patterns of MUP and LUP
assemblages were recognized throughout the MUP
Modern Human Colonization of the Siberian Mammoth Steppe 495
and LUP, respectively. Therefore, there seems to be
more variation in technological activities, organiza-
tion, and provisioning strategies between the two
techno-complexes than within each. I argue that
these changes were significant, indicating an abrupt
transition between the MUP and LUP.
During the Upper Paleolithic in south-central
Siberia, there was an abrupt transition, not just in
technologies employed by hunter-gatherers, but in
the organization of the people and the ways in
which they were utilizing the landscape. Numerous
settlements found between 518N and 568N across
Siberia, dating from about 32,000 to 24,000 cal BP
are evidenced by the presence of the MUP. From
what we know about these people, they seem to
have been utilizing local resources and various eco-
logical zones and landscapes and maintaining low
levels of mobility by provisioning place.
At about 24,000 cal BP, populations in south-
central Siberia dwindled to archaeologically unrec-
ognizable levels. Whether or not humans completely
disappeared from Siberia during the LGM is not
known; however, in the Enisei River basin popula-
tions seemed to have been quite low. Possibly during
this time Upper Paleolithic Asians pushed into more
temperate regions or refugia, where there may have
been continuous occupation spanning the LGM
(Izuho and Takahashi, 2005; Nakazawa et al., 2005).
With the end of the LGM, LUP foragers
re-entered Siberia, bringing a different land-use
strategy from that used during the MUP—one in
which people were provisioning individuals and
were highly mobile, likely moving their residences
more frequently than before. Technology had
altered to support these changes. Core and tool
technologies became more formal and standar-
dized. Highly flexible composite osseous and stone
projectile points and knives were manufactured at
this time. These implements would have been bene-
ficial in hunting large-range herd animals, such as
reindeer, that tended to occur in high frequencies in
the LUP faunal assemblages.
The earliest reliably dated microblade technolo-
gies in northern Asia come from sites in Hokkaido,
Japan dating to 22,000–20,000
cal) BP (Izuho and Takahashi, 2005; Nakazawa
et al., 2005; but see Chen, 1984; Chen and Wang,
1989; Lu, 1998 for earlier, but equivocal dates
from the Xiachuan microblade site in northern
China). While the earliest unequivocally dated
microblade sites in Siberia appeared simulta-
neously in the Transbaikal of southeastern Siberia,
and along the upper Enisei River in far south-
central Siberia at about 18,000–17,500
(21,000 cal) BP (Astakhov, 1986; Goebel et al.,
2000; Graf, 2008). Interestingly, along the
Selemdzha River (a tributary to the Amur’ River
in the Russian Far East), the microblade site of
Ust’ Ulma-1 has one
C date of 19,360 –65
(SOAN-2619) (23,000 cal BP) (Derevianko and
Zenin, 1995). If this age can be corroborated, it
would certainly provide good evidence for the
spread of microblade technologies into southeast-
ern Siberia from Japan via the Russian Far East.
Perhaps the land-use strategies employed by Siber-
ian LUP foragers and the development of micro-
blade technology first arose in Japan from an
LGM, productive mammoth steppe biome in a
coastal refugium. Increased mobility may have
allowed these foragers to rapidly spread into
southern Siberia soon after the LGM.
Acknowledgments I would like to thank the National
Science Foundation (grant ASSP-0525828) for financial sup-
port of my research, and the Russian Academy of Sciences,
Institute for Material Culture History for logistical support
during my stay in St. Petersburg, Russia. I would also like to
thank S. M. Tseitlin, T. Goebel, R. Elston, and Ia. Kuzmin
for their ideas concerning LGM-aged Siberian human
populations, especially the latter three for lively discussion
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