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Dynamics of paleoenvironments in the Cis-Ural steppes during the mid- to late Holocene

  • Institute of Physical, Chemical and Biological Problems of Soil Science, Russian Academy of Sciences
  • Оренбургский государственный педагогический университет

Abstract and Figures

The multi-layered settlement of Turganik in the Tok River valley (steppe region west of the Urals) has been studied using paleopedological and microbiomorphical methods. Early humans lived in the settlement during the Eneolithic epoch (the fifth millennium BC) and in the Early Bronze Age (the fourth millennium BC). The cultural layers attributable to the Atlantic period of the Holocene developed under conditions of a rather dry climate, with the landscapes being dominated by the grass and herb steppe. The settlement area was above the flood water level and was suitable for habitation. The soils in its vicinity were Kastanozems (Endosalic Protosodic). The final stages of the cultural layer formation bear traces of strong (though short-term) floods, with the deposits of the latter partly concealed traces of the preceding long-term arid phase. Maximum aridity was during the final interval of the Atlantic period. The Subboreal and Subatlantic periods were noted for meadow-chernozem soil formation (Luvic Chernozems [Stagnic]) and an increasing proportion of arboreal species in the pollen assemblages. Some phytoliths of aquatic plants were found in the assemblages dominated by those of meadow grasses. The climate was more humid and cool, although short episodes of aridity were possible.
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Quaternary Research (2018), 115
Copyright © University of Washington. Published by Cambridge University Press, 2018.
Dynamics of paleoenvironments in the Cis-Ural steppes during the
mid- to late Holocene
Olga Khokhlova
*, Nina Morgunova
, Alexander Khokhlov
, Alexandra Golyeva
Institute of Physicochemical and Biological Problems in Soil Science, Russian Academy of Sciences, ul. Institutskaya 2, 142290, Pushchino, Moscow
Region, Russia
Orenburg State Pedagogical University, ul. Sovetskaya, 19, 460014, Orenburg, Russia
Insitute of Cell Biophysics, Russian Academy of Sciences, ul. Institutskaya 3, 142290, Pushchino, Moscow Region, Russia
Institute of Geography, Russian Academy of Sciences, Staromonetnyi pereulok, 29, 119017, Moscow, Russia
(RECEIVED August 23, 2017; ACCEPTED February 22, 2018)
The multi-layered settlement of Turganik in the Tok River valley (steppe region west of the Urals) has been studied using
paleopedological and microbiomorphical methods. Early humans lived in the settlement during the Eneolithic epoch (the
fth millennium BC) and in the Early Bronze Age (the fourth millennium BC). The cultural layers attributable to the
Atlantic period of the Holocene developed under conditions of a rather dry climate, with the landscapes being dominated
by the grass and herb steppe. The settlement area was above the ood water level and was suitable for habitation. The
soils in its vicinity were Kastanozems (Endosalic Protosodic). The nal stages of the cultural layer formation bear traces
of strong (though short-term) oods, with the deposits of the latter partly concealed traces of the preceding long-term arid
phase. Maximum aridity was during the nal interval of the Atlantic period. The Subboreal and Subatlantic periods were
noted for meadow-chernozem soil formation (Luvic Chernozems [Stagnic]) and an increasing proportion of arboreal
species in the pollen assemblages. Some phytoliths of aquatic plants were found in the assemblages dominated by those
of meadow grasses. The climate was more humid and cool, although short episodes of aridity were possible.
Keywords: Multi-layered settlement; Cultural layers; Paleopedological method; Microbiomorphical method; Phytoliths;
Paleoenvironmental reconstructions; Eneolithic; Early Bronze Age
Paleosols buried under archaeological sites are natural
archiveswhere information about past environments is
stored. The overwhelming majority of studies in archaeo-
logical pedology are focused on burial mounds (kurgans)
in Russia (Gennadiev, 1990; Ivanov, 1992; Demkin, 1997;
Dergacheva, 1997; Alexandrovskiy, 1996; Alexandrovskiy,
2000); while in Europe, the studies of this kind are less
common (Limbray, 1975; Goldberg and Macphail, 2006). In
the studies of paleosols buried under kurgans, the obtained
data on paleoenvironments characterize only a rather short
time interval immediately preceding the burial of the studied
paleosols. Studies of kurgans of different ages provided
materials for compiling a chronosequence of the buried soils
and for paleoenvironmental reconstructions covering a
longer time interval in the second half of the Holocene. The
cases of kurgan assemblages (cemeteries) conned to a lim-
ited area, with kurgans being raised successively through the
entire period of the kurgan ritual existence, from 6000 yr BP
to the early Middle Ages, are extremely rare (Morgunova
et al., 2003; Demkin et al., 2008; Pesochina, 2013). Even in
such cemeteries, there are considerable time intervals when
no kurgans were constructed. To ll the gapsthe time
intervals when kurgans were not constructedwe have to
interpolate the available data into the intervals lacking data
(Khokhlova et al., 2004).
There are known, however, earthen sites built by early
human (settlements) where material accumulated over a
considerable time interval (for instance, from the middle
Holocene to the present day). Though some sedimentary
layers may have been eroded at one time or another, still they
may still contain almost continuous records since the begin-
ning of the sitesexistence (Sorokin, 2012). Such sites are of
special importance, as they shed light on the Holocene
intervals poorly represented in the paleosol sequences below
kurgans, in particular, the Atlantic period of the Holocene
*Corresponding author at: Institute of Physicochemical and Biological
Problems in Soil Science, Russian Academy of Sciences, ul. Institutskaya 2,
142290, Pushchino, Moscow Region, Russia. E-mail address: olga_004@ (O. Khokhlova).
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(75005000 yr BP). The kurgan rite arose in interuves
of the Volga and Ural rivers rather late in the Atlantic period
(Merpert, 1974). Besides, kurgans dating back to such an
early age are exceedingly rare.
In the present study, the multi-layered Turganik settlement
in the Tok River valley (steppe area of the Cis-Urals,
Orenburg Region, Russia) was investigated using an inte-
grated (paleopedological and paleobotanical) approach. The
study is aimed at reconstructing paleoenvironmental
conditions, climate and vegetation in particular, for the entire
period of the settlements existence.
The Turganik settlement in the Orenburg Region constitutes
part of the so-called Ivanovo microregion of cultural heritage
monuments, along with the Mesolithic Starotokskaya site; an
Ivanovskoye multi-layered settlement (Neolithic, Eneolithic
[or Chalcolithic], Late Bronze Age); Toksky I and Toksky II
settlements attributed to the Late Bronze Age (the Timber-
Grave archaeological culture); an Ivanovsky ground burial
dated to the Eneolithic; and the Ivanovsky kurgan cemetery
of the Early Iron Age (Fig. 1).
The ancient settlements are located at the Turganik River
mouth, where the river joins the Tok River (the Samara River
drainage basin). The Turganik River enters an old channel of
the Tok which continues to ow due to that fact. Both valleys
are wide and dissected by multiple river channels. The
oodplain landscapes are mostly wet meadows with rich herb
and grass vegetation, pastures, and hay elds. On both sides
of the Turganik River, and farther along the right side of the
Tok valley there are at-topped elevations, with occasional
forests (Chibilev, 1996). The Turganik settlement was posi-
tioned on a slightly elevated surface at the conuence of the
Turganik and Tok rivers, on the right side of the valley. The
settlement was inhabited in the Eneolithic and the Late
Bronze Age, the fth to fourth millennia BC.
The studied area is at the extreme east of the East European
Platform, within the limits of Obshchiy Syrt Upland. The
latter is a kind of stepped structural surface with some
residual outliers of planation surface typical of the studied
region (the central Orenburg Region). The soil parent rocks
are the Quaternary loams and clays. Among the parent rocks,
there are some admixtures of red rocks attributed to the Tatar
Stage of the Permian System; that accounts for the brownish
or reddish hue of the soil horizons that developed in the
The studied region belongs to the subzone of northern herb
and grass steppe with sheeps fescue (Festuca sp.) and feather
grass (Stipa pennata) on Ordinary Chernozems (Erokhina,
1959) or on Calcic Chernozems (IUSS Working Group
WRB, 2014). The proportion of ploughed area is high (more
Figure 1. (color online) (a and b) Location of the studied region and (c) the objects of the cultural heritage in the microregion: 1, Turganik
settlement; 2, Toksky II settlement; 3, Ivanovsky dune with Ivanovsky ground cemetery; 4, Ivanovskoye II multi-layered settlement; 5,
Staro-Tokskaya site; 6, Toksky I settlement; 7, Ivanovsky I kurgan cemetery.
2O. Khokhlova et al.
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than 63%), while the percentage of forested land area is very
low and amounts to 0.7% at present. The climate is con-
tinental, with average long-term temperatures varying over a
wide range (about 15°C). The mean temperature is 21°C in
July and 15°C in January. Mean annual precipitation is 360
to 410 mm. The snow cover lasts for 145150 days; its depth
at the end of winter is 3040 mm. The frost-free period is
130 days long on average. The sum of temperatures above
10°Сexceeds 2600° С(Geographic atlas of Orenburg
Region, 1999).
Archaeological excavations
The excavations of the site were performed in two stages. The
settlement was rst excavated in 19811982, when cultural
layers were identied as belonging to the Eneolithic, Bronze
Age, and early Middle Ages. There was a dark-gray humus
horizon with pottery described above the lower Eneolithic
layer and tentatively assigned to the Early Bronze Age; its
cultural and chronological position was not determined con-
clusively due to its difference from previously known cul-
tures of that stage (Morgunova, 1984). Later on, after some
ceramic fragments had been radiocarbon dated, the cultural
remains were attributed to the Early Bronze Age (Morgu-
nova, 2014). Still, a few problems as to the ceramics chron-
ology and its cultural attribution remained unsolved. The
most serious doubts were raised in connection with the
radiocarbon ages being older than formerly accepted ages
(Kuznetsov, 2013). Thus, the excavations of the settlement
were resumed in 20142015. About 800 m
have been
excavated altogether (including the area opened in 1982).
The stratigraphy is uniform all over the area, as is the thick-
ness of cultural and barren layers. Six paleosol horizons have
been identied; the four upper ones, up to 60 cm thick, are
completely devoid of artifacts. The only exception is the
uppermost layer yielding some medieval pottery fragments.
The lower part of the sedimentary sequence appears to
include two cultural layers: the lower one contained pre-
dominantly Eneolithic ceramics, while the ceramic items
recovered from the upper layer are condently attributed to the
Early Bronze Age. Judging from the morphological and
technological characteristics of the Eneolithic ceramics, they
were denitely related to the Samara culture (the second stage
in the evolution of the latter). That, together with the presence
of some objects directly imported from the Khvalynian culture
typical for the steppes in the Volga drainage basin, gave
grounds to correlate the layer with the Khvalynian culture
(Morgunova et al., 2016b). The data obtained from integrated
studies of the early Bronze ceramics conrmed its attribution
to the early (Repino) stage of the Pit-Grave culture
(Morgunova and Salugina, 2016; Morgunova et al., 2016a).
A series of 32 radiocarbon ages obtained on animal bones
and various ceramic fragments collected from all the exca-
vated areas and taken from different depths permitted the
cultural layers and related materials to be reliably dated
(Morgunova et al., 2016b). The ages formed three groups,
two of them falling within the Eneolithic epoch. The older of
the two (48984440 ВС) corresponds chronologically to the
Khvalynian burial grounds, the ceramics recovered from the
latter closely resembling those from the Turganik cultural
layer (Shishlina, 2007; Chernykh and Orlovskaya, 2010), as
well as the materials of the Khvalynian type found at the
settlements of the Samara region of the Volga drainage basin
(Korolev and Shalapinin, 2014). The second interval was
dated by radiocarbon to 42373790 ВС on samples of the
Toksky type ceramics (the late stage of the Samara culture).
The same stage is distinguished by the presence of Surtandy
and Novoilyinka type ceramics typical of the Transuralian
regions and the Kama drainage basin at that time. Both may
be assigned to the late stage of the Eneolithic epoch. The
cultural layer attributed to the Early Bronze Age was dated to
the interval of 38003360 BC, correlatable with the early
(Repion) stage of the Pit-Grave culture in the Cis-Ural steppe
(Morgunova, 2014).
Analysis of paleosols
The studies of paleosols were performed on the Turganik
settlement in 2015. The excavation wall was hidden under
50 cm layer of waste left by the previous excavations. The
wall was described in details, photographed, and sampled for
various kinds of analysis.
Analytical studies were performed at the Center of Com-
mon Facilities of the Institute of Physicochemical and Bio-
logical Problems in Soil Science, Pushchino, Russia. The
grain-size analysis for ne earth (<1 mm) was performed by
conventional pipette method with sodium pyrophosphate
pretreatment (Kachinskiy, 1965) to appropriate texture clas-
ses. Particle size distribution was established according to the
Russian conventional fraction groups, physical sand (fraction
>0.01 mm), physical clay (fraction <0.01 mm), and clay
(fraction <0.001 mm). The organic carbon content was
determined according to the Tyurin method of wet combus-
tion with potassium dichromate and concentrated sulfuric
acid. The carbonate CO
was determined by chromatography
in sealed vessels with rubber stoppers in which the samples
reacted with 10% HCl solution and were then converted to C.
The content of SO
gypsum was analyzed by weighing: the
method is based on the precipitation of the sulfate ion by
barium chloride, the weight of the calcined BaSO
is recalculated to SO
. The sum of exchange bases was
determined by way of replacement with ammonium acetate,
K, and Na to be determined subsequently by ame-
photometer, and Ca and Mg by complexometry (Vorobieva,
1998). Soil acidity was determined in water extract (soil and
water are in a ratio of 1:5) and loss on ignition at 900°C
(Arinushkina, 1970).
The concentrations of macro- and microelements were
measured by the X-ray uorescence analysis (XRF) using the
sequential (wavelength dispersive) vacuum spectrometer,
Axios mAX model, produced by PANalytical Company (the
Dynamics of paleoenvironments in the Cis-Ural steppes during the mid- to late Holocene 3
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Netherlands, 2012). The macro- and microelements were
analyzed in the Laboratory of the Mineral Matter Analysis,
Institute of the Ore Geology, Petrography, Mineralogy, and
Geochemistry, Russian Academy of Sciences. The geo-
chemical coefcients were calculated from the data on the
bulk composition for every studied layer. Samples with
undisturbed structure were taken from every described layer
and thin sections were prepared. They were studied using a
polarized-light microscope (Carl Zeiss HBO 50, Germany) at
the Center of Common Facilities of the Institute of Physical,
Chemical and Biological Problems in Soil Science, Russian
Academy of Sciences located in Pushchino, Russia, and
described according to Stoops (2003) terminology.
Microbiomorphic analysis
Microbiomorphic analysis is the microscopic investigation of
detritus, phytoliths, sponge spicules, and other remains of
biota for the reconstruction of ancient pedogenic conditions.
Each microbiomorph is associated with certain types of land-
scape, and provides information on conditions of soil devel-
opment and on landscape evolution (Golyeva, 2001). The
main method of microbiomorphic analysis is the consecutive
study of individual kinds of biomorphs under the microscope.
The amount of 50 g of samples were treated with a hot 30%
solution of H
, separated from sand and clay, and subjected
to otation in a heavy liquid (cadmium iodide and potassium
iodide with a specic gravity of about 2.3 g/cm
). After a
10-minute centrifugation, the oating siliceous and other
biomorphs were collected into a tube and washed with
distilled water several times, then immersed in oils (silica
oil or glycerin), and studied under the optical microscope at
200900 × magnication. Quantitative content of silica
microbiomorphs was assessed following the methodology
published by Albert and colleagues (Albert and Weiner, 2001;
Albert et al., 2002). We counted all the morphotypes we found
per whole slide. Analyzing the entire complex of soil micro-
biomorphs enables one to determine the entire spectrum of
particles from one sample. Interpretation of the phytolith
assemblages in terms of ecology and environments is given
according to Golyeva (2007), who characterized phytolith
assemblages from different ecological zones of the Russian
Plain. In addition, the results of the microbiomorphic analysis
were compared with pollen analysis data obtained in the
1980s, when the Turganik site was rst excavated (Lavrushin
and Spiridonova, 1995).
Prole description
The studied column was designated in the eld as Tr1b-15
and included seven layers (Fig. 2). The column was described
from the top downward, with the boundary between the
buried surface and the overlying dumped soil being taken as
the initial point.
Layer I, 020 (22) cm or 5070 (72) cm from the
dump surface (henceforth, the depths of layers are indicated
without regard for the dump thickness), is a medium loam
with granular structure, densely penetrated with roots,
and is gray-brown (10 YR 5/2) with a pale yellowish hue
(10YR 6/4).
Layer II, 20 (22)50 (55) cm, is a very dark gray
(7.5 YR 3/1) medium loam with a coarse crumby
and granular structure; roots are less abundant compared
to layer I.
Layer III, 50 (55)70 (80) cm, is dark gray with a brown
hue (7.5 YR 4/3) and very dense, with nutty structure easily
destroyed to dust under pressure; boundaries are quite indis-
tinct (due to appearance of carbonates in the lower part). The
presence of the carbonate eforescence makes visible an
indistinct columnarity. Roots are rare and do not penetrate
into the lower layer.
Layer IV, 70 (80)100 (105) cm, is dark gray with whitish
eforescence of carbonates (10 YR 4/2). Stone rubble is
present in abundance and is traceable to the bottom. Both the
soil consistency and structure show columnar features, at
least in fragments; the deposits become more clayey
Layer V, 100 (105)135 cm, is whitish due to abundant
carbonates (7.5 YR 6/3) and columnar structure is distinctly
seen when dried.
Layer VI, 135150 (155) cm, is dark gray with a whitish
hue (10 YR 4/3), locally black with a hint of blue (10YR 2/1),
and poorer in carbonates. The structure is nutty-columnar and
easily crushed into small crumbs when scraped.
Layer VII, 150 (155)180 (185) cm. The color abruptly
changes from dark gray to brown, with a reddish hue (2.5YR
4/6). There are holes of burrowing animals lled with dark
matter, the latter having a well-pronounced bluish hue. In
general, the material is structureless.
Figure 2. (color online) Morphology of the studied sequence,
Tr1b-15, and the position of the identied layers.
4O. Khokhlova et al.
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Total phosphorus
As follows from the chemical analysis results, elevated con-
centrations of the total phosphorus (Р
) are found in layers
V and VI only. The phosphorus concentrations in those layers
are as high as 0.30%, while in the uppermost horizon (that
may be considered as background, or normal) and in all the
other layers they amount to 0.09-0.15% (Fig. 3a). Judging
from the distribution of that element, indicative of a human
impact (Leonardi, 1999; Holiday and Gartner, 2007), only
layers V and VI can be considered cultural layers, whereas
the remaining identied units are interpreted as natural
formations without human interference.
Organic and carbonate carbon
The distribution of the organic (C
) and carbonate carbon
) indicates that the deposition of C
exceeding that of C
in layers I to IV (Fig. 3b), the carbo-
nates being completely absent from layers II and III. There-
fore, the upper part of the sequence, layers IIV, developed
mostly in the absence of carbonates under conditions favor-
able to humus formation.
The cultural layers are characterized by slightly lower C
content when compared to the overlying horizons. The С
content presumably diminished after the soil burial due to
diagenetic biomineralization processes (Ivanov, 1992): the
longer a soil stays buried, the less humus it contains. To
compare the C
content in the studied layers, it is necessary
to take into consideration the fact that layers V and VI stayed
buried for a much longer time than the overlying layers, and
the diagenesis and decrease in the C
content proceeded
longer in them. Therefore, it should be admitted that the C
content in the cultural layers is not very low and could be
formerly comparable with (or even exceed) its content in
layers IIIIV at the moment of the burial of the cultural layer.
The cultural layers display a higher proportion of C
comparison with C
content (Fig. 3b, layers V, VI). That is
not particularly surprising, taking into consideration that C
loss is expected in deposits that have been buried for a long
time. It should be stressed that the carbonate content in cul-
tural layers is four to ve times higher than in the overlying
layer IV, the latter being also carbonate-bearing. Finally,
layer VII may be considered to be essentially lithogenic
(parent rock), it is completely devoid of C
and features the
maximum concentration of C
(up to 5%, i.e., more than
40% of the total mass of the material in terms of CaCO
). The
reddish hue noticeable in layer VII suggests solid calcareous
red rocks of the Tatarian stage (Permian) to take part (or are
predominant) in the layer formation.
Only the uppermost layer I shows the carbonate con-
centration increasing due to warming and summer droughts
recorded by instrumental meteorological observations over
the last decades (Platova, 2008). It is not inconceivable that
the uppermost layer I in the studied area was formed partly of
redeposited carbonate-enriched horizons of soils from the
vicinities. The surface soils of the vicinities are Haplic
qGypsic Calcisols (Endosalic, Sodic).
Particle-size distribution
As follows from the granulometric analysis (Fig. 3c), the
uppermost layer is of medium loam, layer II is ne loam,
layers III and IV are composed of silty clay, and layer VII is
of ne loam in common with layer II. As for the clay
Figure 3. (color online) The distribution of soil characteristics over the studied layers of the Tr1b-15 sequence: (a) total Р
,%; (b) C
and C
, %; (c) fractions <0.001 mm and <0.01 mm, %; (d) pH
; (e) loss on ignition, %; (f) SO
of gypsum, %.
Dynamics of paleoenvironments in the Cis-Ural steppes during the mid- to late Holocene 5
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proportion (light gray stripes in Fig. 3c), it is the greatest
(up to 40%) in the cultural layers V and VI.
Soil pH (H
The obtained values of pH in the water extract vary from 7.8
to 8.6, that is, between weakly alkaline (рН =78) and
alkaline (рН =89) values (Fig. 3d). The values thus
obtained are correlatable with data on the carbon content,
both organic and carbonate. The least alkalinity (рН =7.8)
was recorded in layer II, noted for the highest content of C
and total absence of carbonates. The cultural layers V and VI
show the highest рН (8.58.6).
Loss on ignition
The loss on ignition was found as the difference of the soil
sample weight before and after heating to 900°C with free
access to air. The loss under those conditions includes che-
mically bound water, humus, CO
of carbonates, adsorbed
gases, and chlorides (Arinushkina, 1970). Maximum losses
on ignition were recorded in layers V and VII (Fig. 3e), which
is in good agreement with the highest proportion of carbo-
nates in those layers.
Gypsum content
Layers II and III are noted for the absence of gypsum, which
cannot be detected by the chemical analyses (Fig. 3f). The
maximum concentrations of gypsum are recorded in the
lower part of the studied sequence, in the lowermost layer VII
in particular, which may be attributed to the gypsum presence
in abundance in the parent (Permian) rocks. It is worth noting,
however, that gypsum content is only slightly lower in the
cultural layers.
Exchangeable bases
The studied layers differ notably from each other in the
composition and proportion of the exchangeable bases.
Exchangeable Ca is dominant in the two upper layers, which
are completely devoid of exchangeable Mg. The latter rst
appears in layer III, its proportion is 1516% in layers III and
IV, and reaches its maximum in the cultural layers and in
layer VII (up to 28%; Fig. 4). According to data in the
literature (Mikhailichenko et al., 1972; Slavnyy and
Melnikova, 1977), the exchangeable Mg in common with
the exchangeable Na may be the cause of the soil solonetzi-
city. In the considered case, the most important point is
a difference in the exchangeable base composition between
the modern upper layers (I, II) and the older, lower ones
(IIIVII), with the cultural layers being of particular interest.
The modern layers are practically depleted of solonetzicity
(except for rare cases attributable to the presence a very small
quantity of Na), while the exchangeable Mg may be mostly
responsible for the solonets properties in the lower layers.
Geochemical indices
Geochemical indices based on bulk composition and on
ratios of macro- and microelements in soil mass (Nesbitt and
Young, 1982; Gallet et al. 1996; Retallack, 2001; Pieter et al.
2004; Driese et al. 2005; Starr and Lindroos, 2006; Whiteld
et al. 2006) can be divided into several groups. The rst one
includes the following known as indices of weathering
(Fig. 5):
(a) СIA (chemical index of alteration) is calculated by the
formula CIA =[Al
+ CaO + Na
O)] ×
100; it shows a relationship between primary and
secondary minerals in the bulk composition.
(b) Al
/(CaO + Na
O + MgO) displays clay con-
stituent relationship to the major cations removed into
soil solutions.
(c) Rb/Sr is the relation of micas and feldspars (with which
Rb is associated) to the carbonates associated with Sr.
(d) Ba/Sr is essentially close to the preceding index, except
Ba is only associated with feldspars.
(e) SiO
/(MnO + CaO + K
O) characterizes
the eluviations processes.
The above-listed (rst) group of the indices of weathering
characterizes the processes of leaching and hydrolysis. The
result of these processes is that certain chemical compounds
are dissolved and removed, while others remain xed in the
soil prole. As follows from the data obtained (Fig. 5ae), the
weathering indices in cultural layers (VVI) are extremely
low when compared with the lowest values of layer VII
(slightly weathered parent rock). The weathering indices
calculated for layers IIV show the maximum values,
especially in layers II and III.
The only index included into the second group, Zr/TiO
makes it possible to estimate the homogeneity of the material
constituting the layers (Retallack, 2001; Schilman et al.,
2001). Noteworthy is that the greatest values of the considered
index are observed in layers I and II (Fig. 5f). The distribution
of that coefcient over the layers suggests the two upper layers
contain an admixture of some material different in composi-
tion from the lower layers. This conclusion is in agreement
with the earlier conclusion regarding the exchangeable Na and
Mg distribution in the layers under study.
Indices СаО + MgO/Al
and Na
O form the third
group and point to the processes of enrichment in carbonates
Figure 4. (color online) Distribution of the exchangeable bases
over the studied sequence Tr1b-15.
6O. Khokhlova et al.
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and salinization (with readily soluble salts). The distribution
of the carbonate content index (Fig. 5g) correlates well with
the C
distribution over the studied layers (Fig. 3b). This
supports the validity of usage of the geochemical index for
estimating process of carbonate accumulation. As for the
salinity index (Fig. 5h), the readily soluble salts prevail in the
lowermost and upper layers (VII and I) as could be expected,
as those layers are notable for the greatest proportion of
exchangeable Na (Fig. 4). The cultural layers VI and V are
also rich in the easily soluble salts. This agrees well with the
distribution of losses on ignition. It may be tentatively
ascribed to the chloride salt presence in the layers, though
they have not been specially analyzed. The grayishhue was
most characteristic of the cultural layers in particular. It
should be kept in mind, however, that the hue may be related
not only to a high proportion of carbonates, but to the pre-
sence of readily soluble salts (Fig. 2).
The indices attributed to the fourth group are related in one
way or another to the redistribution of iron and manganese
compounds (Fig. 5il). According to the published data (Vlag
et al., 2004), these indices are indicative of the level of
bioactivity and biological productivity in the sedimentary
rocks. We also placed the magnetic susceptibility (MS) of the
rocks in this group, as its value depends directly on the pre-
sence of iron-containing magnetic minerals, which may be
produced by micro-organisms under certain conditions
(Schüler and Frankel, 1999).
The highest values of the above-cited indices are found in the
cultural layers (Fig. 5ik), and slightly lower values are found
in layers IV and VII. The measured magnetic susceptibility
values agree with those data (Fig. 5lm). That seems to be at
variance with the cited characteristics indicative of a greater
carbonate content and salinity in the cultural layers; the data
suggest a greater aridity at the time of the deposition of layers,
so that the freshly deposited material was hardly subject to
physical and chemical weathering in situ. On the other hand,
the layers are greatly enriched with Mn and Fe compounds and
magnetic minerals, which attest to a high level of bioactivity
and bioproductivity and to a considerable supply of moisture to
the layers. The micromorphological studies of the layers in
section Tr1b-15 shed new light upon that contradiction.
The general microstructure of all the layers under study is dis-
played in Figure 6. When considered in succession, the gradual
changes in the layer structure are well traceable: the upper
layers (I and II) present granular structure, coprogenic, with
distinct traces of mezofauna activities (Fig. 6a and b); down-
ward the structure is coarser and the soil mass becomes more
Figure 5. (color online) Distribution of the geochemical indices (al) and magnetic susceptibility, ×10
/kg (m), over the studied layers
in the Tr1b-15 sequence.
Dynamics of paleoenvironments in the Cis-Ural steppes during the mid- to late Holocene 7
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compact and closely packed, though individual granular
aggregates are still visible and traces of faunal activities are
discernible in layers III and IV (Fig.6c and d). Cultural layers V
and VI are noted for a drastic change in structure: the soil mass
is broken into blocks outlined with regular (subparallel) ssures
and cracks (Fig. 6e and f). Layer VII is completely structureless
and Fe-Mn dark spots are well-pronounced (Fig. 6g).
The elements of structure, and rst of all carbonate
features, when considered in detail, reveal specic char-
acteristics giving an insight into the cause of conicting data
obtained from the studies of the layer composition (see
above). The ne matter in layer I is clayey-ferruginous in
composition, with carbonate accumulations found in pores,
voids, and present as micrite concentrations around pores, or
as undifferentiated nodules. Occasional presence of shell
fragments of presumably aquatic mollusks (Fig. 7a) suggests
the river periodically ooded the layer. Soil ne material in
layers II and III is clayey-ferriferous in composition, weakly
anisotropic, optically oriented around skeletal particles, and
mottled with spots of iron compounds and small-size Fe
nodules (Fig. 7b and c). Such microstructure is typical of
medium (not supercial) horizons of Meadow Chernozems
(Stagnic Chernozems) with sufcient water supply; usually
such soils develop under conditions of a leaching water
regime. Carbonates are completely absent from layer II,
while in the lower layer (III) they are found in a small pro-
portion as limestone fragments in pores. The calcareous
material of the fragments is recrystallized, which agrees well
with meadow type of soil formation easily identiable from
the morphology and composition of the two layers.
Considering microstructures of the lower lying layers IV, V,
VI (Fig. 7df), the microstructure is noted for much darker color
as compared with the three others considered above. The ne
materials in layers IV, V, and VI is clayey-calcareous, so that
carbonates are present in abundance. The carbonates with clay
are overlain with clayey-ferruginous material, as particularly
clear in Figures 7d and e. When viewed in reected light, the
samples show the presence of organic matter and manganese,
besides Fe and clay, in the overlying material. Some fragments
of calcareous shells are also quite distinct in the overlying
material (Fig. 7e and f). Evidently, that was a case of two-phase
formation of the ne material in the layers under consideration:
the initial clayey-calcareous material was later overlain with
ferruginous-clayey matter with organics and manganese
admixture. The presence of mollusk shells suggests uvial
deposits taking part in the overlying material formation.
Figure 6. (color online) The microstructure of the studied layers in
the Tr1b-15 sequence. See the text for explanations. All the
photographs were taken with plane polarized light (PPL) at the
same magnication, except for (e) and (g).
Figure 7. (color online) Elements of microstructure of the studied
layers in the Tr1b-15 sequence. See the text for explanations. All
the photographs were taken with cross polarized light (XPL).
8O. Khokhlova et al.
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The microstructure of layer VII does not reveal any signs
of soil formation; diversied carbonate features, from
recrystallized calcareous rubble to cryptocrystalline nodules
in ne material and large fragments of shells (Fig. 7g), are
conspicuous. The mineral skeleton of the layer is quite dif-
ferent from the overlying layers in both composition and the
size of fragments. That is indirect evidence that the Permian
red rocks noted for a high content of carbonates took an
active part in the formation of that layer.
Microbiomorpic analysis
The microbiomorphic analysis revealed a great amount of
plant detritus and amorphous organics present practically in
all the layers (except for the lowermost layer VII, where its
proportion is slightly lower); sponge spicules (Fig. 8a) are
also present in abundance (Table 1). Cultural layers V and VI
differ from the other layers by the greatest proportion of
charred wood detritus. The spicules recovered from the layers
have no signs of corrosion and their canals are not lled with
mud, so they have not been redeposited and their deposition
was apparently synchronous to the formation of the layers.
Similar, undamaged spicules are present, though in smaller
amounts, in layers I and VII. Samples from layers III and IV
yielded spicules only occasionally, the latter being partially
destroyed, with canals well-silted with redeposited older
sediments. In addition to spicules, the samples contained
diatom frustules (Fig. 8b). It is of interest that the diatom
distribution is close to that of spicules: diatoms are found in
those samples only where the spicules seem to be well-
preserved (like those in layers I, V, and VI). The
best-preserved diatom frustules were recovered from the
uppermost sample.
The greatest number of phytoliths was recorded in layer VI
(Table 2). The sample taken from the layer differs con-
spicuously in phytolith abundance from adjacent samples. It
may be suggested that the layer richest in phytoliths is a result
of superposition of the cultural layer characteristics on the
alluvial deposits. Another possible explanation is that a
human dwelling existed there with various herb and grasses,
or probably reed, used in its construction.
The number of phytoliths in layers V and IV is much less
(almost by an order of magnitude) than in layer VI. It is only
in samples from those three layers that the presence of steppe
gramineous plants (Fig. 8c) together with reed (Fig. 8d) and
sedge phytoliths was recorded, along with a considerable
proportion of meadow grasses (Fig. 8e).
The samples with minimum number of phytoliths (layers II
and III) are also noted for the absence of diatoms and a
scarcity of sponge spicules. It may be assumed that those
layers resulted from the movement of sediments on the slope,
phytoliths being probably involved in the movement only
occasionally. It is also possible that originally those layers did
not occur on the surface and were exposed after the overlying
layers had been removed by erosion. Layer I also features an
abundance of phytoliths, their assortment is close to that in
the cultural layers. A distinguishing feature of layer I is the
presence of coniferous phytoliths (besides that layer, con-
iferous phytoliths [Fig. 8 f] were found only in layer VII, their
abundance being there ever greater); those of reed or sedge
are completely absent.
Phytolith assemblages recovered from uvial sediments or
from deposits of slope wash or those of intermittent streams
provide information on the regional vegetation. As follows
from those data, the region was dominated by forest and
meadow coenoses at all times; small amounts of steppe grass
phytoliths were found in layers IV, V, and VI only.
Pollen analysis, comparison with data obtained
from microbiomorpic analysis
Pollen analysis was performed on the Turganik site by
Spiridonova (Lavrushin and Spiridonova, 1995) during the
Figure 8. Different forms of silica microbiomorphs: (a) sponge
spicula; (b) diatom; (c) phytolith of stipa grasses; (d) phytolith of
reed; (e) phytolith of meadow grasses; and (f) phytolith of
Table 1. Comparative semi-quantitative contents of micro-
biomorphs. Estimated content of the microbiomorphs: + + +, high;
+ +, medium; +, low.
no. Detritus
spicules Diatoms Phytoliths
1 + + + + + + + Single + +
2++++++ ––+
3 + + + + + + Single Single
4 + + + + + + Single ++
5 + + + + + + + Single + +
6 + + + + + + + Single + + +
7++++ ++
Dynamics of paleoenvironments in the Cis-Ural steppes during the mid- to late Holocene 9
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rst excavation of the settlement. The radiocarbon ages were
widely used when interpreting the pollen assemblages. In case
a particular layer had not been dated by radiocarbon, its age
was conjectured on the basis of geological and paleogeo-
graphic correlations. To give one example, layer VII, extre-
mely decient in pollen and spores and composed mostly of
solid rock fragments, was tentatively dated by the authors to
the nal stage of the late glacial (Younger Dryas). After that,
the processes of erosion and denudation were dominant. Much
later, at the second part of the Atlantic period of the Holocene
(as was conrmed by radiocarbon dating of archeological
materials), the pollen assemblages suggest steppe vegetation
of herbs and grasses, or purely grass steppe, with small amount
of pine. This conclusion agrees with the data on phytoliths and
with the xeromorphic properties of paleosols dated to that time
(the earlier phase of the layer VI deposition).
Pollen assemblages of the Atlantic optimum ~ 5500 yr BP
indicate some increase in moisture supply and related affor-
estation of the oodplain (Lavrushin and Spiridonova, 1995). As
follows from our data, the site was abandoned at that time and
the no-longer-functioning cultural layer VI was gradually buried
under deposits of frequent oods. According to the
obtained on archeological materials, the age of layer VI (or the
second stage of the Eneolithic epoch on the Turganik settlement)
may be dated to 42373790 cal yr BC, that is, somewhat earlier
than the Holocene optimum suggested by palynologists.
Layer V shows another interval marked by increasing cli-
mate aridity and the dominance of grass steppes. As stated by
the above-cited authors, the climate at the time that layer V
was functioning was even dryer than during the formation of
layer VI. That is conrmed by our data on the layer V com-
position, was formed during early Pit-Grave culture (the
Early Bronze Age), in the range from 38003360 BC,
according to the dates obtained on archeological
materials (Morgunova et al., 2016b). As follows from the
above, the maximum of aridity coincided with the Atlantic
optimum. The above-cited authors (Lavrushin and
Spiridonova, 1995) obtained the age of 4250 ±200
BP on humus from layer V; that date may be taken as the end
of the functioning of the layer and the beginning of its burial
under later deposits.
Later on, in the Subboreal interval, the authors noted a
cooling, development of meadow-chernozem soils or Luvic
Chernozems (Stagnic; IUSS Working Group WRB, 2014),
and proportion of arboreal pollen in the assemblages rising up
to 40%. Quite possibly, it was at that time that layers IV, III,
and II formed. The humus horizons of the soils, however,
developed at that time could be completely destroyed by
wind erosion activated during dry intervals.
Finally, there are interlayers in layer I indicative of a drastic
increase in aridity that probably took place in the Middle Ages;
occasional fragments of medieval pottery have been recovered
from the layer where pollen assemblages are dominated by
Chenopodiaceae with Artemisia and grasses, with some sedge
pollen near the top of the layer. Most likely, the layer I for-
mation was a complicated process, asmight be inferred from its
composition as well as from pollen and spore assemblages.
On the whole, there is certain compatibility between the
data obtained from the phytolith analysis and those from
pollen assemblages; both strongly suggest the dominance of
open landscapes (indicated by prevalence of meadow plant
communities) through the entire period of the deposition.
Varying relation between tree species and steppe (dry steppe)
grasses may be interpreted in terms of the climate aridity and
humidity. Each of the considered methods provides
additional information on the landscapes and vegetation, in
particular, that existed at the time of the deposition,
functioning, and burial of the layers under study.
The analysis of the geologic and geomorphic context of the
Turganik settlement performed during its initial excavations
led Yu.A. Lavrushin to the conclusion on the deluvial-
proluvial character of its deposits, despite the fact that the
settlement is located near the riverbed of the Тоk River
(Lavrushin and Spiridonova, 1995). The archeological
objects are enclosed into an apron composed of materials
Table 2. Distribution of siliceous microbiomorphs (counted/%) and diagnostic groups of phytoliths (%). Numbers
1 to 6 designate the diagnostic groups of phytoliths as follows: 1, herbs; 2, coniferous needles; 3, forest grasses;
4, meadow grasses; 5, steppe grasses (mostly Stipa sp.); 6, reed and sedges.
Diagnostic group of phytoliths
Sample Total Sponge spicules Diatoms Phytoliths 1 2 3 4 5 6
1 102
/100 16/16 4/4 82/80 71 2 11 15 1
2 23/100 ––23/100 100 –– ––
3 6/100 3/50 3/50 100 –– ––
4 67/100 4/6 63/94 68 10 16 3 3
5 73/100 9/12 1/1 63/87 75 13 813
6 410/100 10/2 1/
399/98 63 52822
7 40/100 18/45 22/55 68 9 5 18 ––
Number per gram (millions).
Particles found in amounts less than 1% of the total.
10 O. Khokhlova et al.
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brought by sheetwash or ephemeral streams from the adjacent
elevated surfaces to the base of the valley side. Deposits of the
settlement may be a source of information on environments
during the entire period of the accumulation of sediments. We
focused our attention precisely on the processes of sediment
accumulation together with the environments of accumulation,
considering the morphology and composition of the layers in
the Tr1b-15 section on the Turganik settlement.
Clear signs of human activities are found in two out of
seven layers of the studied section; those are layers V and VI,
noted for increased contents of total phosphorus as compared
with the background values. Only those units may be con-
sidered as cultural layers bearing strong evidence of human
permanent habitation, not just of a short-time stay. In case of
a short-term human stay, some artefacts could be probably
found, but changes in the chemical composition of deposits
(an increased content of phosphorus) are highly improbable.
Among distinctive features of the morphology of cultural
layers are: a whitish hue clearly pronounced in the deposit
color, a high carbonate content, clayey composition, and
columnar or nutty-columnar structure (Table 3). The cultural
layers display an abundance of carbonates and gypsum, the
greatest proportion of ne fractions (<0.001 and <0.01 mm)
in their granulometric composition, the dominance of Mg in
the exchangeable bases, and the highest values of pH, while
geochemical coefcients of weathering are relatively low.
Only those cultural layers indicate the presence of readily
dissolved salts. Of course, such properties as alkalization and
carbonatization may be partly attributed to the results of
human activity. That was noted, for instance, in the soils of
antique cities in comparison with virgin natural soils (Alex-
androvskiy et al., 2015). But the whole set of the listed char-
acteristics can be conditional on natural processes only and
suggests highly arid environments at the time of accumulation
of those layers and transformation by soil-forming processes.
The soils formed at that time were probably of chestnut type
(or Kastanozems [Endosalic Protosodic]; IUSS Working
Group WRB, 2014), bearing distinct traces of salinization and
solonetzicity. These conclusions are supported by the data on
phytoliths and pollen assemblages, the latter being clearly
indicative of the dominance of grass and herb steppes at the
time of functioning of the cultural layer.
At the same time, the cultural layers under consideration
feature high contents of C
, along with high values of
geochemical coefcients of bioactivity and bioproductivity
of the ecosystems, as well as magnetic susceptibility. As
follows from the micromorphological studies, the ne mate-
rial rich in Fe, Mn, organic matter, and shell fragments
overlies and conceals the clayey-calcareous material. The
phytolith assemblages recovered from the layers include
sponge spicules and diatom frustules.
The observed characteristics of the microstructure and
composition of layers V and VI (cultural layers) may be
interpreted as follows. The layers were supposedly formed in
the course of prolonged and quiet stages of the slow sedi-
mentation, the deposits being gradually changed by processes
of the arid soil formation. Every stage of the deposition ended
with an episode of catastrophic oods that left the poorly
sorted overlying material. Those episodes were short when
compared with long-lasting period of the site (or settlement)
existence near the quietly owing river, where oods did not
occur even in spring. That accounts for an apparent contra-
diction in the composition of cultural layers V and VI: on one
hand, they contain carbonates and gypsum, readily soluble
salts, exchangeable Na and Mg, and, on the other, iron
compounds (including magnetic ferriferous minerals),
manganese, and organic carbon. So, the long-lasting dry
periods when cultural layers developed and were functioning
came to an end with catastrophic oods that could force
ancient people to leave the habitable area. The oods were
probably high-energy but short-term: they left only limited
amounts of non-sorted material enriched in the above-listed
constituents and could not completely conceal traces of arid
soil-forming processes.
The aforementioned interpretation is supported by the
diversity of phytolith assemblages retrieved from the cultural
layers. These assemblages contain phytoliths of forest,
meadow, and steppe grasses on one hand and indicators of
aqueous environments of deposition (such as sponge
spicules, diatoms, reed, and sedges) on the other. The main
body of a cultural layer could be formed in comparatively
arid environments but, at the nal stages, the river water
bringing minor amounts of alluvial material ooded the site.
The earliest stages of the sequence formation were marked by
the presence of coniferous trees in the vegetation, which seem
to be gradually restored at present.
Layer IV, dated to the nal Atlantic-early Subboreal
periods of the Holocene, is similar to the cultural layers
(V and VI) in its composition and assortment of phytoliths.
This means that the processes of accumulation and transfor-
mation of materials in layer IV were largely similar to those
in the older cultural units. A more thorough analysis of layer
IV, however, revealed signs of a long-lasting increase in
humidity since the Subboreal period. When compared with
layers VVI, layer IV is noted for a less distinct columnar
structure and a less pronounced whitish (grayish) hue in its
color. Traces of mesofauna activities are more noticeable in
micromorphology and granular aggregates appear. The C
accumulation prevails markedly over that of C
, while the
pH of water extract and gypsum content are lower. Layer IV
is also noted for a higher proportion of exchangeable Ca in
the exchangeable bases, as well as for greater indices of
weathering and lower rate of carbonate accumulation and
salinity. The coefcients of biological activity and biopro-
ductivity as well as the value of magnetic susceptibility are
the highest in this layer (Table 3).
For reconstruction of environments at the second half of
the Holocene recorded in the studied layers, most important is
a dramatic change in the soil formation process after the
formation of layer IV had been completed. Unlike the lower
ones, layers II and III display characteristics of humid soil
formation: they are devoid of carbonates, gypsum, and easily
soluble salts, C
content is rather high, and the exchangeable
bases differ from the above in that Mg is completely absent or
Dynamics of paleoenvironments in the Cis-Ural steppes during the mid- to late Holocene 11
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Table 3. The age of the layers, main indices of soil processes, pollen and phytolith assemblages, and paleoclimatic reconstruction.
Signs of ancient
Main indices of soil processes
Data on phytolith and
Soil name
according to Reconstructed
Layer Age human inhabitation Morphological Chemical pollen assemblages WRB-2014 climate
I Subatlantic period of
fragments of
medieval pottery
The lightest gray color Low percentage of C
gypsum, a negligible
amounts of exchangeable
Na in the exchangeable
Chenopodiaceae pollen
dominance (with
sagebrush and grasses
as co-dominants) in the
lower part of the layer
replaced by sedges in
the upper part of the
layer; the presence of
coniferous phytoliths
Haplic Gypsic
drier than
II Subboreal period of
No Well-pronounced signs of
biological activities and
soil aggregation: clear
granular structure; the iron-
clayey carbonate-free ne
material bears
characteristics of mobility
and anisotropy
No carbonates, gypsum, and
easily soluble salts; the
high C
content; the high
proportion of exchangeable
Ca and negligible amounts
of exchangeable Mg in the
exchangeable bases
Meadow forbs and herbs Luvic Chernozem
IV The nal Atlantic
early Subboreal
periods of the
No Less distinct columnar
structure, traces of
mesofauna activities, an
appearance of granular
aggregates, a less
pronounced whitish
(grayish) hue
The C
prevails over that of C
lower pH and gypsum
content; higher proportion
of exchangeable Mg in the
exchangeable bases;
greater coefcients of
weathering and lower
those of carbonate
accumulation and salinity;
highest coefcients of
biological activity and
bioproductivity; and the
highest magnetic
Steppe gramineous plants
together with reed and
sedge phytoliths; a
considerable proportion
of meadow grasses
Transitional soil
process from
under dry steppe
to Luvic
under meadow
Transitional from
arid to humid
V 38003360 yrs cal BC Cultural layer of the
Repino stage of
the Pit-Grave
culture (the Early
Bronze Age)
Whitish hue in the deposit
color; columnar or nutty-
columnar structure
High carbonate and gypsum
percentages; the greatest
proportion of ne fractions
(<0.001 mm and <0.01
mm); the dominance of Mg
The dominance of grass
and herb steppes; the
greatest proportion of
charred wood detritus
The most arid
12 O. Khokhlova et al.
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present in negligible amounts. Those layers show well-
pronounced signs of biological activities and soil aggrega-
tion: granular structure is clearly discernible in macro- and
micromorphology and the iron-clayey carbonate-free ne
material bears characteristics of mobility and anisotropy. All
those features are evidence of humid soil formation of the
meadow-chernozem type (or Luvic Chernozems [Stagnic];
IUSS Working Group WRB, 2014) in the case under con-
sideration. Frequent oods regularly occurring since then
made the high oodplain surface unt for habitation.
Layer I seemingly developed at the time of the surrounding
area being actively used as arable land. The tilling caused
accelerated erosion. The layer composition gives an inte-
grated picture of the modern background soils resulting from
mixing of the upper humus horizons with the underlying
calcareous ones. Layer I is noted for the lightest gray color
(Table 3). As follows from the palynological data, the lower
interlayers within the layer contain information on a short
interval of increased aridity marked by Chenopodiaceae
pollen dominance (with sagebrush and grasses as codomi-
nants), replaced by sedges in the upper part of the layer.
It follows from the above that the Atlantic period of the
Holocene was mostly characterized by arid environments; the
peak of aridity fell on the early Bronze Age, the time of the
early (Repino) stage of the Yamnaya culture in the Cis-Ural
steppes. The Subboreal and Subatlantic periods were
relatively colder and more humid, though short episodes of
aridity could occur and some of them happened to be
recorded in the sequence under study.
The reconstructed history of the climate changes in the
Cis-Ural steppes during three intervals of the Holocene is in a
good agreement with the results obtained in other regions.
According to Alexandrovskiy (1996, 2000; Alexandrovskiy
et al., 1999, 2004), the Atlantic period was the most arid one in
the south of Russia, the subsequent intervals being compara-
tively wetter and colder. The extreme aridity was recorded on
the Ukraine territory at the nal Atlantic period, a few less arid
chrono-intervals having been identied over the entire period
(Kotova, 2009). There are, however, other schemes of climate
uctuations in the central part of the Russian steppe zone; a
few of them consider the Atlantic period to be humid, or even
the most humid, as compared with the second half of the
Holocene (Ivanov, 1992; Demkin, 1997). Also acceptable is a
scenario of climatic uctuations occurring at different times in
different regions (Chendev et al., 2010). Further investigations
and accumulation of empirical data would help to gain a better
insight into the problem.
The studies of the multi-layered settlement Turganik (Cis-Ural
steppe region) permitted the development of a scheme of cli-
matic uctuations and changes in regional vegetation for the
second half of the Holocene (beginning from the Atlantic); the
scheme is based on the data on paleosols and phytolith analysis,
some earlier publications on pollen assemblages also being
widely used.
Table 3. (Continued )
Signs of ancient
Main indices of soil processes
Data on phytolith and
Soil name
according to Reconstructed
Layer Age human inhabitation Morphological Chemical pollen assemblages WRB-2014 climate
in the exchangeable bases;
the highest values of pH;
low geochemical
coefcients; the presence of
readily dissolved salts
VI 42373790 yrs cal
ВС-upper part
48984440 yrs cal
ВС lower part
Cultural layer of the
culture (the
Eneolithic epoch)
VII The nal stage of the
Late Glacial
(Younger Dryas)
No The reddish hue in the deposit
color is due to a high
proportion of solid
calcareous red rocks of the
Tatarian stage (Permian)
The highest proportion of
carbonates and absence of
; maximum losses on
ignition and gypsum
The presence of
coniferous phytoliths
No signs of soil
formation, the
predominance of
processes of
erosion and
Not reconstructed
Dynamics of paleoenvironments in the Cis-Ural steppes during the mid- to late Holocene 13
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The ancient people inhabited the place from 5000 to 4000 BC
(actually throughout the Atlantic period), when the place was
not subjected to ooding. At the time of human habitation, the
climate was mostly arid. Paleosols of that time are attributable to
the Kastanozems (Endosalic Protosodic). They developed under
grass (or herb and grass) steppes. The peak of aridity falls on the
nal Atlantic period. At the end of Eneolithic epoch (the fth
millennium BC) and in the Early Bronze Age (the fourth mil-
lennium BC) there were short-term but violent oods, which
forced people to leave the habitable place.
During the Subboreal and Subatlantic periods of the
Holocene, the climate became more humid, the oods
became regular, the vegetation was dominated by meadow
forbs and herbs growing on meadow-chernozem soils (Luvic
Chernozem [Stagnic]), and the settlement was completely
abandoned. In general, the studied sedimentary record at the
Turganik archeological site reveals traceable climate change
towards lower temperatures and increasing humidity in the
second part of the Holocene, with occasional episodes of
aridity that did not affect the general trend.
The archeological excavations and dating were performed with the
nancial support from the Department of Education and Science RF,
Project No 33.1389.2017. The paleosol investigations were funded
by the RSF, Project No 16-17-10280; the works on phytolith ana-
lysis had supported from the RSF Project No 14-27-00133. We also
thank two anonymous reviewers for their constructive criticism of
the manuscript and their valuable suggestions.
Albert, R.M., Bar-Yosef, O., Meignen, L., Weiner, S., 2002.
Quantitative phytolith study of hearths from the Natuan and
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Dynamics of paleoenvironments in the Cis-Ural steppes during the mid- to late Holocene 15
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... Studies of the Eneolithic kurgans in the Cis-Urals have not been carried out since they are still unknown in this area. We have co-authored detailed reports on the following study sites (locations shown in Fig. 1): KCs Shumaevo I and II and a single kurgan of Shumaevo (Morgunova et al. 2003;Morgunova and Khokhlova 2006), KC Mustaevo V (Morgunova et al. 2005a, b;Khokhlova and Khokhov 2005;Golyeva 2005), KC Skvortsovka Khokhlova et al. 2010;Khokhlova and Khokhlov 2011), KC Krasikovo I (Papkina et al. 2018;Morgunova et al. 2019;Khokhlova et al. 2019b) and the ancient settlement of Turganik (Morgunova et al. 2017;Khokhlova et al. , 2019a. ...
... Paleosol of layer 6, as compared to other layers of the Turganik settlement, had the whitest color (due to a high content of carbonates identified in the field by effervescence test with hydrochloric acid), the finest (most clayey) texture and mostly columnar structure with angular blocky elements. Laboratory analyses showed that layer 6 had the highest contents of calcite and gypsum and traces of soluble salts in the mineralogical composition, the highest proportion of clay fraction (particles < 0.001 mm) in the particle-size distribution, the highest concentration of magnesium in the soil exchange complex and the highest values of pH in water extract (Khokhlova et al. 2019a). All these features were indicative of very arid paleoenvironmental conditions during the period of deposition and pedogenic development of layer 6, with the formation of paleosols alike modern Kastanozems with features of alkalinization and salinization. ...
... This conclusion was confirmed by data from palynological analysis (Lavrushin and Spiridonova 1995) as well as phytolith analysis, which both showed the predominance of grass and grass-herb steppe communities during the period considered. Micromorphological investigations of thin sections from layer 6 revealed that it consisted of calcareous clay, which was overlain by ferruginous clay with inclusions of organic matter, manganese and shell fragments (Khokhlova et al. 2019a). Therefore, there were two phases of deposition, with the second phase distinguished by additions of alluvial sediments (as was indicated by the presence of shell fragments). ...
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Multidisciplinary research undertaken on archeological sites in the Southern Cis-Urals steppe resulted in the identification of six distinct ‘chronosections’, i.e., chronological intervals within the period of the 5th–3rd millennium BC. Paleoenvironmental reconstruction showed that the first half of this period was predominately arid, whereas the second half was humid. The arid phase, which included chronosections I, II (the Samara culture of the Middle and Late Eneolithic Period) and III (the early stage of the Pit-Grave culture of the Early Bronze Age), was characterized by a sharply continental paleoclimate that was drier than the modern climate within the study area. During the arid phase, there were profound changes in the occupations of the indigenous ancient people, e.g. cattle farming of the Samara culture changed to nomadic herding of cattle at the early stage of the Pit-Grave culture, which was associated with the construction of burial mounds. The humid phase (chronosections IV, V and VI corresponding to advanced and late stages of the Pit-Grave culture of the Early Bronze Age) was wetter and less continental than the modern climate within the study area.
... It was only in the Urals and Western Siberia that red deer survived until the 18th to mid 19th century (Kirikov, 1959). The most likely causes for such a large-scale extinction of red deer from its eastern most range during the Holocene were changes in climate (towards more continental) and habitats (aridization; Bolikhovskaya & Kasimov, 2010;Khokhlova et al., 2019). Furthermore, the contemporary eastern border of the European red deer range, stretching from the Baltic States to the Caucasus Mountains, runs parallel to the isoline of mean January temperature between −10 and −15°C (see e.g. ...
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Aim: The Expansion-Contraction model has been used to explain the responses of species to climatic changes. During periods of unfavourable climatic conditions, species retreat to refugia from where they may later expand. This paper focuses on the palaeoecology of red deer over the past 54 ka across Europe and the Urals, to reveal patterns of change in their range and explore the role of environmental conditions in determining their distribution. Location: Europe and western Asia to 63°E. Taxon: Red deer (Cervus elaphus). Methods: We collected 984 records of radiocarbon-dated red deer subfossils from the Late Pleistocene and the Holocene, including 93 original dates. For each deer sample we compiled climatic and biome type data for the corresponding time intervals. Results: During the last 54 ka changes in red deer range in Europe and the Urals were asynchronous and differed between western and eastern Europe and western Asia due to different environmental conditions in those regions. The range of suitable areas for deer during the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) was larger than previously thought and covered vast regions not only in southern but also in western and eastern Europe. Throughout the period investigated the majority of specimens inhabited forests in the temperate climatic zone. The contribution of forests in deer localities significantly decreased during the last 4 ka, due to deforestation of Europe caused by humans. Mean January temperature was the main limiting factor for species distribution. Over 90% of the samples were found in areas where mean January temperature was above −10°C. Main conclusions: Red deer response to climatic oscillations are in agreement with the Expansion-Contraction model but in contradiction to the statement of only the southernmost LGM refugia of the species. During the last 54 ka red deer occurred mostly in forests of the temperate climatic zone.
... Yet the scheme continues to be used today, and often in regions for which it was never initially intended (e.g. Bolikhovskaya et al., 2018;Furlanetto et al., 2018;Khokhlova et al., 2019). ...
The Holocene, which currently spans ~11 700 years, is the shortest series/epoch within the geological time scale (GTS), yet it contains a rich archive of evidence in stratigraphical contexts that are frequently continuous and often preserved at high levels of resolution. On 14 June 2018, the Executive Committee of the International Union of Geological Sciences formally ratified a proposal to subdivide the Holocene into three stages/ages, along with their equivalent subseries/subepochs, each anchored by a Global boundary Stratotype Section and Point (GSSP). The new stages are the Greenlandian (Lower/Early Holocene Subseries/Subepoch) with its GSSP in the Greenland NGRIP2 ice core and dated at 11 700 a b2k (before 2000 CE); the Northgrippian (Middle Holocene Subseries/Subepoch) with its GSSP in the Greenland NGRIP1 ice core and dated at 8236 a b2k; and the Meghalayan (Upper/Late Holocene Subseries/Subepoch) with its GSSP in a speleothem from Mawmluh Cave, north‐eastern India, with a date of 4250 a b2k. We explain the nomenclature of the new divisions, describe the procedures involved in the ratification process, designate auxiliary stratotypes to support the GSSPs and consider the implications of the subdivision for defining the Anthropocene as a new unit within the GTS.
The natural environment and prehistoric human activity in the Holocene floodplains of the Low Volga River and in the southern Urals are important research objects in geomorphology, soil science and archaeology. The alternating sequences of soil-alluvium sequences represent a sedimentary archive with chrono-stratigraphic records of human land use, sediment accumulation and soil formation. The central floodplain of the Derkul River (western Kazakhstan) was studied using the multiproxy approach to investigate the soil-alluvium sequence dating from 8000 years ago until the present and containing a buried Stagnic Fluvic Phaeozem. Alluvial deposition began with stream sedimentation in the early Holocene, followed by a prolonged period of soil formation under low water conditions (7.5–5.7 ka cal year BP). Humans started habitation the floodplain in 6.6–5.7 ka cal year BP. Increased atmospheric precipitation in 5.7–3.4 ka cal year BP accelerated alluvial sedimentation. Soil formation followed the synsedimentation model. Conditions for the stationary land use by humans in the floodplain were less optimal. In 3.4–2.1 ka cal year BP, alluvial sedimentation was less pronounced, and solonetz carbonated soils were formed, reflecting increased climate aridity and continentality. Humans returned to the floodplain area, but in 2.1–1.9 ka cal year BP, the flooding frequency increased, and in 1.9 ka cal year BP, the surface of the floodplain passes to function in a high floodplain. Thus, synsedimentation formation resumed, with colluvium discharge from the adjacent hills being the main source of material input.
The original version of the book was inadvertently published with a few typesetting errors in Chapter 2, which have been updated as follows:
The southern steppes of European Russia are rich in archaeological monuments that were extensively studied for many decades. Nevertheless, paleosols buried under the burial mounds and especially the big kurgans of the Bronze Age in the Ponto-Caspian area did not receive proper attention. The paper focuses on soil evolution and climate dynamics during the Bronze Age based on the study of soils buried during several stages of earthen mound construction within one big kurgan in the Kuban-Azov Plain, Russia. The kurgan 1 in the Beysuzhek-9 kurgan cemetery of the Bronze Age, situated in the Korenovsky District, Krasnodar Region, consists of three earthen mounds made at different times. The soils, buried under three mounds of the kurgan, are located in close vicinity from each other and have similar lithology and geomorphic position. They form a chronosequence representing three time slices. Moreover, the chronosequence displays a certain chronological order of burial: paleosols were first buried in the center of the kurgan and later closer to its periphery. The height of the kurgan is about 4 m that ensures good preservation of the buried soils. The research is based on the comparative analysis of morphology, micromorphology and analytical properties of three paleosols buried under different constructions in the kurgan and surface soil. Also, the palynological analysis was performed for the uppermost layers (0–5 cm) of three paleosols. During the first stage of the kurgan construction, the Novotitorovo archaeological culture of the Early Bronze Age at the 27th-22nd centuries BC, the climate of the region was sufficiently humid and provided a high bioproductivity for surrounding landscapes. The interval between the second and third stages of kurgan construction was marked by the gradual increase in aridity. During the third stage of the kurgan construction (the Catacomb archaeological culture, the Middle Bronze Age, the 21st −16th centuries BC), the climate was mostly arid. The results of the palynological analysis are in agreement with the study of paleosols. During the construction of the kurgan, the vegetation pattern corresponded to a Southern forest-steppe. The percentage of herbaceous plants increased markedly, and steppe species appeared during the time of Catacomb culture. Share Link to the full text (active before May 22, 2021):
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In the ceramic collection of Turganic settlement in the Orenburg region there is a group of bronze age pottery, which by its morphological and technological indicators stands out sharply from the main group of dishes. They are large size vessels with massive aureoles and distended body. The authors called these vessels hums. The aim of this study is to identify cultural-chronological position of the specified group of dishes in the system of the antiquities of the early - middle bronze age. Within this group the authors distinguish two types. The basis for type selection was the particular design of the upper part of the vessel. The first type is ceramics from Turganic settlement and the vessel from the burial mound Perevolotsky I. Morphological and technological features, and a series of radiocarbon dates has allowed to date these vessels to the time of the yamnaya culture formation in the Volga-Ural region (Repinsky stage). The authors suggest that the appearance of such vessels should be an imitation of the Maikop pottery. It could be penetration of small groups of craftsmen or the intensification of contacts with the population of the North Caucasus. The second type of pottery from Turganic settlement is similar to the burial mound Kardailovsky I (mound 1, burial 3) in Orenburg region, in the Northern pre-Caspian, region of the Samara river, Kuban and the Dnieper. Researchers have noted the scarcity and originality of this dish. The chronological and cultural position of such vessels is determined within the III Millennium BC (calibrated values).
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Six major stages of the soil-cover evolution have been specified: discontinuous cryogenic pedogenesis at Pleistocene-Holocene boundary; initiation of the soil cover in the Early Holocene; Middle Holocene quasi-equilibrium; climatic evolution on the eve of the Late Holocene; natural-anthropogenic and anthropo-technogenic Late Holocene evolution. The soil cover has been reconstructed for Pre-Boreal (9500 years ago), it comprised specific immature soils; for the climatic optimum (5000 years ago), when soils were similar to the present-day ones, although situated more to the north, and participation of deep chernozems, tundra and peaty-gley soils was reduced. The Late Holocene (1000 years ago) soil cover was practically the same as it is now. The analysis of 5000- and 1000-years-old soil permitted specification of regional types and variants of soil evolution.
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Antique cities in the south of European Russia are characterized by a considerable thickness of their cultural layers (urbosediments) accumulated as construction debris and household wastes. Under the impact of pedogenesis and weathering in dry climate of the steppe zone, these sediments have acquired the features of loesslike low-humus calcareous and alkaline deposits. They are also enriched in many elements (P, Zn, Ca, Cu, Pb, As) related to the diverse anthropogenic activities. The soils developed from such urbosediments can be classified as urbanozems (Urban Technosols), whereas chernozems close to their zonal analogues have developed in the surface layer of sediments covering long-abandoned ancient cities. Similar characteristics have been found for the soils of the medieval and more recent cities in the studied region. Maximum concentrations of the pollutants are locally found in the antique and medieval urbosediments enriched in dyes, handicrafts from nonferrous metals, and other artifacts. Surface soils of ancient cities inherit the properties and composition of the cultural layer. Even in chernozems that developed under steppe vegetation on the surface of the abandoned antique cities of Phanagoria and Tanais for about 1000—1500 years, the concentrations of copper, zinc, and calcium carbonates remain high. Extremely high phosphorus concentrations in these soils should be noted. This is related to the stability of calcium phosphates from animal bones that are abundant in the cultural layer acting as parent material for surface soils.
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Abstraet Phytoliths are common in hearths and ash layers from archaeological sites. They can potentially provide valuable information about the type of wood used to make the fire and possibly, which trees and which parts of the trees were used. These results can also differentiate between ash layers of anthropological origin and those due to spontaneous combustion based on the presence of wood phytoliths found in caves. To carry out this study, two archaeological sites were studied, Tabun and Kebara Caves, (Mt. Carmel, Israel). Tabun Cave belongs to the Lower and Middle Paleolithic periods and Kebara Cave to the Middle and Upper Paleolithic periods. Thirty different plant taxa common in the area were analyzed, among them woody dicots, herbaceous dicots and grasses. These analyses were based on the phytolith concentrations in the different species and on the morphological characteristics of these phytoliths. The amounts of phytoliths present in the different species were obtained by counting the phytoliths from the Acid Insoluble Fraction. In this way all the more soluble minerals were removed with strong acid, to minimize the effect of weight changes of the samples due to diagenesis. The results showed that phytoliths in grasses are about 20 times more abundant than in wood and bark of woody dicots. The morphology of the phytoliths showed that in wood and bark, phytoliths with variable morphologies are the most common, while in the leaves of the same species and in grasses, phytoliths with consistent morphologies are the most abundant. The variations in the ratio of phytolith types of these two groups, in both the reference collection and the archaeological samples, together with the different proportions of acid insoluble fraction and the different extent of production of phytoliths, can indicate whether the phytoliths present in the archaeological samples are derived from the wood and bark of trees. The morphology of the phytoliths with consistent morphology were studied, by comparing those present in the reference collection to those in the archaeological samples. This may provide information about the types and parts of the trees used as fuel. For an easier identification of the phytoliths the data were organized in a catalog with digital pictures of phytoliths identified both in the reference collection and in the archaeological samples. This catalog is available together with the information on phytolith concentrations and the relative proportions of the different morphologies of phytoliths identified in the different species and parts of the plants analyzed.
The evolution of soils in the Cis-Ural steppe in the second half of the Holocene is studied using as an example the chronological sequence that includes paleosols of the Early Bronze, Early Iron, Middle Ages, and modern southern chernozems. A scheme of paleoclimatic reconstructions within the studied chronological intervals and for the last 5500 years as a whole is developed. A numerical gradation of changes in soil properties within the chronosequence is offered, which allows us to estimate the trends of soil development and changeability in time and make an adequate reconstruction of paleoclimatic conditions.
A suite of Vertisols (clay-rich soils with high shrink-swell potential) were examined across a climosequence (climatic transect) in twelve soil pits from the Coast Prairie of Texas in order to determine if mean annual precipitation (MAP) exerts a control on the chemistry of these soils, and if the observed chemical trends are useful for interpreting paleoclimate records of paleoVertisols in the geologic record. The precipitation regime of the climosequence spans a range between 144 and 86 cm/year, with moisture regimes classified as udic, udicustic, ustic, and aridic-ustic, in a general northeast to southwest direction. Other soil-forming factors, such as soil age (&LT; 35-40 ka), parent material (fluviodeltaic Beaumont Formation of late Pleistocene age), landscape (low-relief coastal plain), and vegetation (prairie or mixed woody shrubs), are relatively constant across the climosequence. Climate-sensitive chemical proxies of MAP identified include dithionite citrate-extractable Fe (Fe-dith), acid oxalate-extractable Fe (Fe-oxal) CaCO3 equivalent (CaCO3equiv), S, and ammonium acetate-extractable Na, K, and Mg (Na-acet K-acet, and Mg-acet, respectively), which vary across the climosequence because of differences in effective depths of leaching and intensity of wetting and drying cycles. These standard USDA wet-chemical climate proxies are related to bulk (oxide or element) chemistry of soils and paleosols measured using XRF, which supports the use of geochemical climate proxies for interpreting the paleoclimate records of paleoVertisols. Application of the chemical index of alteration minus potash (CIA-K) geochemical climofunction to late Mississippian paleosols from the Appalachian basin of the eastern U.S. demonstrates evidence for a shift from a lower to a higher MAP paleoclimate that is consistent with previous paleoclimate models and with observed morphological changes in the paleosols. We advocate actualistic research using bulk chemistry of soils and paleosols as a means of obtaining soil information useful for interpreting paleosols in the geological record.