Libmonster ID: RU-17282
Author(s) of the publication: Yelena AKIMOVA

by Yelena AKIMOVA, Cand. Sc. (Hist.), Senior Research Assistant of the Institute of Archeology and Ethnography, RAS SB (Novosibirsk)

The late Paleolithic multilayer site Listvenka is located in the vicinity of the town of Divnogorsk, 40 km away from Krasnoyarsk. Its age is estimated within 16.5-10 thous. years. The site was discovered in 1982 by the schoolboy Alexei Guryanov and Director of the Divnogorsk Museum Konstantin Zyryanov. In 1983 archeological excavations of the site were commenced by a group from the Krasnoyarsk State Pedagogical Institute (later-university) led by Nikolai Drozdov (1983-1986), Cand. Sc. (Hist.), Head of the Chair of National History (KSPU), Manager of the Laboratory of Archeology and Paleogeography of Central Siberia, RAS SB Institute of Archeology and Ethnography, and the author of this article (1987-1997). For the years of excavation works Listvenka became widely known for unique findings of stone and bone utensils and household complexes: fireplaces, workshops, and dwellings. This article deals with a specific, 19th cultivated layer of the site that revealed unique and quite surprising artifacts.

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A scientific article might have started like this: "In 1996-1997, in the 19th cultivated layer of Listvenka site, about 7 m deep from the daylight surface, a household complex, interpreted as a dwelling-workshop, was discovered and studied...". In fact, the story began in August 1992 when our small group, mostly composed of students of the Krasnoyarsk Pedagogical Institute, was preparing Listvenka site for an international academic conference. It was required to clear out all huge terraced walls of the site containing fragments of cultivated layers to show them to the visitors. Perhaps we could have considered ourselves constructors of a sand castle if Listvenka site and all immense excavated soils anyhow resembled a sand-box...

Somewhere in the early August I asked Sergei Volkov, a physicist seconded to us, to dig a trench "from beginning to end", since I was sure nothing interesting could be found at this depth, and went to Divnogorsk for a couple of hours. When I got back, I was astonished to find a rich soot-colored horizon in the trench wall. Numerous soot pieces covered the dump surface; nearby I found scattered stone instruments on small fragments and plates, nuclei on fine pebbles, pieces of mammoth tusk-the things I never supposed to discover there. Quite upset, we sifted the dump and collected around twenty items... It was the 19th layer. It was known since 1987, when we found bones of a young mammoth and a number of inexpressive flakes at the very bottom of the dig. And all this in the area of approximately 300 square meters! Who could imagine that in 1992 everything would thus change?

In late August, after the scientific conference was over, we completed digging of the prepared area. In a small area of about 10 m2 we found over 2,000 stone and mammoth tusk artifacts. They were located close to each other, in a thick ash-sooty layer, in a form of one conglomeration. There were a few intact bones, while a combination of mammoth's large spinal bones and split hare and willow grouse bones was unusual. Hare bones were especially numerous. When examining them at home, I was astonished to realize that one of the bones was not in fact hare's. What I mechanically attributed to hare remains, turned out to be an odd job from the mammoth tusk, fine and elegant, with two "heads". According to ethnographic materials, it was very much like a button (later on, the Irkutsk ethnographer Mikhail Turov, Cand. Sc. (Hist.), said: "Write down a 'pin' "), the button of a special type-a "pin".

There was another thing that attracted my attention. Our trench touched an edge of a pit with 3 spinal bones of a mammoth in it. One more bone was found above, near the pit. No coal, no soot, no flakes in it, except for an occasional pair. Nothing was so simple as it seemed-no accidental conglomeration of objects.

As it turned out soon, this trench was dug along the edge of a land plot that somehow survived after construction of the Krasnoyarsk Hydro-Electric Power Station, a bridge across the Listvenka River, power transmission line towers, and, finally, levelling of a site for a race track of a college of the Voluntary Association for Assistance to Army, Air Force and Navy. We carefully examined a tiny piece of land we "inherited", and a secret of the 19th layer of Listvenka site was created to a large extent due to an excavator bucket.

A year later, we finished excavations of the site adjacent to the bedrock outcrops, but it did not meet our expecta-

стр. 19

tions. The discovered artifacts were few and extraordinary situations were absent.

It sometimes so happens that years later you have to carry out excavations in the place you once worked but it remained a mystery for you. Three years later, in 1996, we returned to the 19th layer. By the mid-season, almost all participants of the expedition left the place, we spent all money, and had to decide whether to give up and leave or stay and try to find reasons for further excavations at the site. In other words, we were looking for any chance to wriggle out and find some money or products. We began to open a half of the excavation site and, as it turned out, missed the point for half a meter...

Stones, stones... Large and average-size stones, they stood out of the layer, making an uneven dashed line. To the north of the stones, in the ash layer, we found some artifacts: flakes, plates, small bones. There was nothing of the kind to the south of the stones: not a single ash inset indicating presence of man. Finally, we found the spine of a mammoth, then another one, a large bone fragment, and no colored horizon at all. There was no sense in digging deeper. Anyway, we were sure that nothing interesting would come out, since the stones expressly marked the boundary. Did that mean that...

But northwards we found another stone that did not look like a fragment of rock: flat on top with polished ribs... Around it, there were numerous finds... Here is an empty place: twenty centimeters eastwards there is an oval spot clean of ashes and stone splinters. Next to it, a large elongated pebble-hammer, a nucleus used probably to produce plates by this same hammer, numerous big chips obtained mostly from one stone... If you sit down on this stone and try to clean the layer, that oval spot would be located exactly at arms' length... Or perhaps this really is a seat of the master, who in the old times used to split stones, who left a hammer and a nucleus there, obviously one of the many. But why is there a spot? Let us assume that there could lie something, pinned down to the ground that did not let waste and colored ash leak under it... A large oval stone? Skin?.. Staggering! Once I was happy to find an imprint of an ancient bedding in the layer and deplored that it was made in France, and now we found something similar in our country!

Where is the second wall, I wonder? It should exist! Somewhere here, in these squares. Several minutes later, from sandy loam cleaned literally at a depth of 2 centimeters, there shows up a protruding edge of a large stone. Why does the stone stick out from a frost fissure cutting through the excavation site? Could it fall through it?.. No, it could not, but if the second wall could be calculated logically, no doubt-a mythical idea of an early man dwelling is materializing before our eyes!

Here is another strange concentration of stones. Crushed stones are closely laid in a circle leaving an empty area of up to 20 cm in diameter inside the circle. The analogy is striking-a pillar supporting the construction arch. But could this be a pillar of such thickness?! Besides, if it is a pillar, the soil in between the stones would be broken. Another thing that might be expected is a coal-like lens-a remainder of the singed for endurance

стр. 20

base. But we have to wait: it is not allowed to rummage in the stones. Meanwhile, we can only clear the surface, trying not to miss details. Nearby, there are some more stones lying in the form of a comma. Two small fragments are lying on each other with a large mammoth tusk piece in between them. After we removed the upper stone and cleared it of the sand, we saw an oval tool with a solid handle-a kind of a shovel-scraper to process skin. One of the ancient dwellers tacked it away near the wall at the foot of the pillar and covered it with a stone.

Here is the mammoth at last! A tiny bone under the knife gradually turns into a huge fragment of the ulna with a massive epiphysis. But it lies somehow strangely-inclined... Yes, it lies in a wide rather shallow pit. Nearby there are some pieces of tusk, a broken rib and a fragment of the spine, single flakes... In general, the findings are few, less than outside of the pit. There is a point vertically looking out near the bone epiphysis edge. We can clearly see that it is made of the tusk, even polished... It is clear that it was stuck intentionally, but what for?.. We carefully take it out... It is a fragment of an artifact with a conic blunted edge and a thoroughly chosen groove smoothly tapering from the edge to the base. Once it was a splendid thing, but unfortunately now we have in our hands only a piece of it. One more fragment was found 1 m to the east, but it was of little help for us. But for all that why was it stuck?


Thus, one more depression to the north-west of the pit. The artifact is not stuck, it is laid down. Nearby lies a stone blade with a totally worn out cutting edge. It is most likely that this yet impersonal item made from the tusk, half-cleared, in the sand, with a lime crust on top, will turn out to be a blank. Yes, perhaps... The fine elongated form with a light bend, uneven shallow narrow grooves totally useless in terms of any functionality. But

стр. 21

I feel something is missing... No head. If it existed, it would explain everything: flexures in the spine and knees, and the inguinal region emphasized by an oblique cut... If the guess is true, this find is a real success, since no anthropomorphic figurines made of mammoth tusk were found along the Yenisei so far! If only we could find the head...

Surprisingly enough, but we found the head soon... It was absolutely identical to the "pin" we discovered in 1992 except for the size. Unfortunately, it did not match the "body". So, was it another "pin"?

The problem lies in the pit. Generally speaking, it could be used for a camp-fire. But we found no traces of it. Could it be a pit-pantry? Maybe this mammoth bone had much meat? But why is the pit so shallow, with irregular sides and bottom? Why is the article from the tusk unfinished and moreover, why is it stuck into the ground? Not to let it dry up? Dried-up tusk requires soaking to be

стр. 22

processed... And why not use this pit for water covering its sides and bottom with a skin beforehand? This could explain why it is so shallow and irregular. However, it is the only argument. If only the pit contained many tusk fragments... all doubts would be superfluous...

At the southern edge of the excavation site, there is a stone fence. But one of the stones stands out high... No, it is where it should be, in the circle, but something is wrong about it... I make a decision to go deep into the ground with a knife near its base... It turns out to be from somewhere else, rolled down from the rock much later, after the dwelling was constructed. No doubt, this was to be expected given native outcrops nearby.

So, we can summarize. The stone fence in the southern part, though not as solid as you'd like to, but this changes almost nothing. The stone facing that had fallen into the crack in the northern part of the site. In the center, there is a strange pit and a stone seat obviously for an ancient master. Only a hearth is missing, but, in general, it is simply a classical variant: round ancient dwelling of about 4 m in diameter. I suppose, there was something similar discovered in 1992, but as the stone line was not so well-proportioned, the dwelling most probably was destroyed and abandoned. We could be proud of our achievements and get down to writing a sophisticated scientific article.

Meanwhile, we did not have enough time to complete excavation works in August: we had to make an additional piece in the direction of the rock, and then, after getting a complete picture, to dismantle the laying and clean up the "floor". We had to postpone the works till the next summer.

A year full of hopes, expectations, and discussions passed... A pillar, a pit, and a stone so comfortable to sit on... What is in store for us? Next summer, we continued digging the area left, elaborated a plan of excavations, corrected it, and started to classify the stones. Soon we got to the round wall... Where was the pillar believed to support the roof? Nothing left: the soil is intact and no signs of a butt. But what was then the reason to lay the stones? If the pillar had nothing to do with the roof, and the stones supported something else, for example, an item with a wide rounded bottom? At that time no ceramic items existed; vessels could be made of skin, wood, wattled with twigs

стр. 23

and clayey. It is impossible to check the hypothesis; traces of such materials are not usually preserved...

Where is that spot near the stone-seat? It would seem it is here..., but it is getting smaller and smaller with each movement of the knife, there appear flakes, small bones, and ashes... That means, no spot was ever there... Consequently no seat ever existed? But they had to sit somewhere, and that stone was simply "born" for this role!

There is one more stone located above the "floor" level; nearby there is a concentration of flakes and tiny bones pressed down by another stone... We took the setting to pieces, made photos of stones, reference cleanups trying to notice every detail and to comprehend. Besides, it turned out that we kept moving around the same central pit, gradually tightening the circle. And the moment came when it was no sense in gaining time-in the middle of the excavation site there stood the only outlier covered with a film... I carefully cleaned the sides of the pit covered with a thin ash layer.... I do not know what I was waiting for. Perhaps, it was something that could stop an unavoidable series of new sections and final destruction of the pit, our last chance to make a discovery... To my utter amazement, my knife reached small round dark-grey spots clearly seen in the light-brown sand. They were located on the sides of the pit, slightly higher or lower of the middle. 9, 11, 13 spots! 13 round spots of 2 cm in diameter! What does this all mean?

I start quietly collecting the contents of the spot-grey sandy soil is going deep down as a narrow long cone... They were pegs! 13 wooden pegs were once stuck into the pit to the depth from 4 to 9 cm! What for? What does this mean?

стр. 24

And, in general, if you look at the outline formed by the pegs from above, it resembles... the skin of a small animal (hare or polar fox) stretched on a concave surface. So, I might assume that the skin was really stretched in the pit pressed down to the soil. By the way, that same biggest bone of a mammoth was there too, but what for?


So, what was the purpose of this pit with the mammoth bone, traces of wooden pegs, scarce archeological material inside and no signs of a fire? Nearby numerous small pieces of the cut tusk, the whole and broken items made of the tusk: a blank of a strange (could this be anthropomorphic?) item, and stone tools for processing tusks. In the vicinity a mass of stone splinters, but they are of no use in solving a puzzle connected with the mammoth tusk. Perhaps our guess made a year earlier is in keeping with the truth? The pegs were used to press the skin down to the ground, forming a reservoir to pour water necessary for processing a tusk. Nobody has ever found anything like this. It is widely known that Paleolithic people used to process tusks at stopping places, but to find such a "basin"?!

After the works had been completed, I repeatedly examined my own records and photos and suddenly was struck by a phrase in my diary-"stuck perpendicular to the pit sides". Something very familiar. What else was "stuck perpendicularly"?.. A fragment of the polished tip made of the tusk in 1996. It was the tip that stuck out vertically at the epiphysis of the mammoth bone in the uppermost part of the pit. Moreover, it was stuck not with a point (quite blunt, in fact), but with a sharp broken end. Is it possible that it is the fourteenth peg? Why not to use a fragment of the object for such an ordinary thing? What luck it was not wooden and has survived till our days. But what was that bone for? Was it gradually sliding down to the pit or was put there intentionally-to press down a protruding edge? Who can say now...

Well, what do we have in the end? A dwelling? On the one side-a relatively distinct wall, on the other side-a single large fragment. During a control cleaning of the "floor", the stone began to go deep into the soil and all our attempts to find its base ended in a failure. It transformed into an acute-angled rock protuberance cutting our layer from below. So, no stones were found on this side. Actually, they were not so obligatory: it's enough to press stakes down and to draw covers made of skin tight on them from the windward side, the more so as the other side looks onto the rock. It is all OK, but... What did we have in 1992? I take out my plans, diaries, and a report. A pre-conference fever, nasty days of September, a camera lost in the rain... Forget about the camera! If only I could begin all over again, examine the site differently, pay attention to details I missed at that time! Many archeologists experienced this feeling of angry disappointment and injury when you are ready to give any thing to have a chance to look once again at the things you once feck-lessly missed, failing to assess this present of fate! Time goes by, and you get smarter, experienced, but what is the use of it today, if you are unable to make up for lost time and correct your mistakes! In 1992 we witnessed a compact accumulation of material: magnificent series of cutters, retouched plates, nuclei, punctures and screws! Let alone tusk items! Sharp points, a "pin"... Stop... No

стр. 25

doubt, all these things were made by one and the save man-that same "pin" and "head", which are identical even in their asymmetry. The distance between them-6 m. Is that accidental? Taking from one nucleus-what is area scattering? Perhaps this is a single complex?

Thus, in 1992 we discovered an area rich in archeological findings; in 1996 we found another one. These areas are located at a distance of about 1.5-2 m, where compactness of finds was lower. The first and the second areas are characterized by a similar composition of artifacts plus the same stone flakes and cut tusk pieces, and a relatively few bones of animals (in any case early people did not have to butcher animals there) and a thick soot layer. Between these two areas-flakes, plates, retouched microplates, scrapers... Why no scrapers were found in the rich areas, why were they concentrated almost in one square? Could this fact be explained by an assumption that this very area was used to process skins? What about a "shovel" made of a mammoth tusk hidden under a crushed stone piece near the concentric laying? It is absolutely clear that it was designed (and used!) to process soft materials. This means that our structure is composed of three parts, two of them absolutely identical, and only one that pit with pegs... But there is a pit in other case too! But it looks a little bit different: it contained mammoth's vertebrae and nothing more. We did not examine its bottom-the soil was so clean, without ash. If only we could get back to 1992 and examine this pit once more. But at that time we found no spots-pegs there! And no other variants except for a small pit-pantry, could arise. One thing remained unclear: why was there no "mud" on its sides (if it was open), and on the surface (if it was filled up)? It could appear only if at the time of its origin, the site was already abandoned by people. They could leave for another territory, i.e. "production zone moved to the south-east", while the pit with hidden mammoth vertebrae remained. But why did they store them if not for meat?


Was there a dwelling? By the way, what does a dwelling mean? A place to eat and sleep? If a dwelling is only a functionally neutral term, it is worth thinking about a roofed workshop that was used in a cold season where people worked in the light of a primitive light stand? But where is the hearth then? It should be; I believe we could have found it, if it had not been for construction of a hydro-electric power station, power transmission line, a bridge across Listvenka. It hardly was a simple hearth-a place for a fire. Perhaps, compared with a discovery ahead, a pit with pegs inside would have been perceived by us as nothing serious...

Well, once again: a fragment of a stone wall (western part destroyed by excavators), two very similar production areas, a place for processing of skins... Was there any building? Indeed, it could be a closed structure or a structure with a single wind wall-reliable and compact, not letting wastes pass from these "premises". From the opposite side, the rock served as a natural shield, at the foot of which a workshop of mammoth hunters was located. Somehow imperceptibly, everything became focused on the layout of this building, as if it was the most important thing. But the most important artifacts, in paper packages and polyethylene sacks, were samples of unique stone and bone industry, which remained where they were originally, untouched by water or sand. A similar method of bone and tusk processing was opened in late 1920s in the Baikal Region, which changed all existing scientific ideas on the Late Paleolithic in Siberia (35-10.3 thous. years ago). In the past decades, they were found also near a number of sites on the Yenisei... But never before the discovered items were in places and in the position they had been left by early people-hidden under the stones, half-dug or stuck into the soil. We discovered intact stone and tusk instruments, perhaps still necessary for someone, untouched vertebrae once certainly with meat on them, a "basin" with pegs... What had happened? Where did the people go? Why did they go leaving behind the things they could have taken?.. Generally speaking, these issues are out of competence of an archeologist. Our regular problem is to answer such questions as "how did these artifacts get at this geological body?".. History is gradually becoming a matter for regional ethnographers and journalists carried away by popular science, while we remain specialists in material culture, like many other experts in quaternary geology, soils, flora and fauna, and we feel ill at ease to put such unprofessional amateurish question: what has happened with these people, mammoth hunters, capable of constructing SUCH structures and processing stone and tusk SO skilfully? We are making attempts to decode the remains of their activities. Sometimes, we succeed (or it only seems that we succeed), sometimes we feel disappointed challenging numerous problems we are unable to solve.

For six thousand years, people settled at the foot of the rock on the bank of the Listvenka rivulet over twenty times. They were already different: they hunted for bisons, produced different stone and reindeer horn instruments, constructed dwellings. They left behind hearths, instruments, animal bones, which we cleaned, described, took photos of, but, it seems, as if I never again felt the sense of "fixed moment", as during excavations of the 19th cultivated layer...

They never returned to Listvenka.


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Yelena AKIMOVA, THE SECRET OF THE NINETEENTH LAYER: LISTVENKA SITE // Moscow: Russian Libmonster (LIBMONSTER.RU). Updated: 21.11.2021. URL: (date of access: 01.12.2021).

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