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Mira, a new late Pleistocene in the Middle Dniepper, Ukraine (Preliminary Report)

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Situated in Dnieper valley, in the central part of continental Ukraine, the site of Mira yields two well-preserved Palaeolithic occupation levels, possessing features of true living floors. The uppermost layer I, presenting remains of autumn-winter seasonal occupation, is dated to between 32,000 and 31,000 cal BP. Layer I contains EUP assemblage combining the technological and morphological features of local Middle and Upper Palaeolithic. Layer I includes many various objects, like pits, postholes, hearths, bone and ashes accumulations etc. Remains of sub-circular surface-dwelling construction with an area of about 14.5 m² were recognised in the uppermost layer due to numerous postholes and specific characteristics of the living floor. Micro-stratigraphic and spatial features recognise two distinct construction elements, namely the external irregular spherical contour and the inscribed slightly asymmetrical rectangular contour. An entrance, associated with four ashy lenses of likely smoke hearths, was recognised oriented east-wards toward a current river channel. This outer, close to the entrance, zone of construction contains numerous flints, in particular, flint tools, thousands tiny debris and waste-flakes of tool resharpening and reshaping, as well as bone ornaments and ornamented bone pieces, and also a fragment of a human molar. On the contrary, the practically free lithics though containing plenty of burned organic material, the back part of the construction, likely separated from the outer zone by a special partition, was seemingly served as a sleeping zone. It is possible to conclude about the recovery of remains of permanent carcass surface cylindrical dwelling that found analogies in ethnographical records. Keeping in mind the age and geographical position, we deal with the earliest instance of complicate surface-dwelling construction currently known in the steppe area of the East European plain.
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The aim of this paper is to present the evidence for, and to discuss the aspects of the striking similarities that have been identified between backed bladelets recovered in two geographically distant assemblages, one found in Southern Italy (Paglicci, layer 24 horizon A1) and the other in Eastern Europe (Mira, layer II horizon 2). Both assemblages are dated to around 29–28000 BP and are taxonomically defined as Early Upper Palaeolithic. Detailed comparison of technical and morphological data is impossible because the Eastern European site does not contain an assemblage that lends itself to statistical analysis. The backed bladelets of type PA24A1, found in Paglicci, layer 24 horizon A1-0, and Mira, layer II horizon 2, have no direct analogies in chronologically close Aurignacian and Gravettian sites, in either Southern or Eastern Europe. Taking into account the similar chronological position of the sites, separated by a distance of ca. 2,500 km, it is concluded that the significant similarity of the backed bladelets is most likely explained not by the convergence of development or by trade, but by the direct migration of a group of modern humans who manufactured such specific microliths. The Paglicci (24A 1) and Mira (II/2) industries generally belong to the Early Upper Palaeolithic, being placed chronologically at the transition between the EUP and MUP, being located morphologically and technologically between the Aurignacian and Gravettian. Despite the scarcity of data, the distinctiveness of the backed implements indicates that the sites belong to the same episode of sociocultural development. The issue of the cultural affiliation of the industry with PA24A1 type bladelets remains unanswered, and the search for analogies, either in Eastern or Southern Europe, needs to be continued.
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New geoarchaeological and bioarcheological research was undertaken at the open-air site of Mira, which is buried in deposits of the Second Terrace of the Dnepr River, roughly 15 km downstream from the city of Zaporozhye in Ukraine. Previous excavation of the site revealed two occupation layers dating to ∼32,000 cal BP. The lower layer (II/2) yielded bladelets similar to those of the early Gravettian, while the upper layer (I) contained traces of an artificial shelter and hundreds of bones and teeth of horse (Equus latipes). Mira represents the only firmly dated early Upper Paleolithic (EUP) site in the Dnepr Basin, and occupies a unique topographic setting for the EUP near the center of the broad floodplain of the Dnepr River. The site was visited during a period of floodplain stability, characterized by overbank deposition and weak soil formation under cool climate conditions. Mira was used as a long-term camp, but also was the locus of large-mammal carcass processing associated with a nearby kill of a group of horses (Layer I).
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