Humans have been in the Arctic for over 40,000 years, new discoveries reveal

Humans have been in the Arctic for over 40,000 years, new discoveries reveal 1
Underground Civilization in Antarctica. © Image Credit: Julian Faylona

The discovery was made by scientists from the Siberian Section of the Russian Academy of Sciences (СО РАН) conducted radiocarbon analyses of reindeer antler fragments found at the Kushevat Paleolithic site in the Lower Ob region.

Humans have been in the Arctic for over 40,000 years, new discoveries reveal 2
The Ob River. © Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

In addition to the antler bones, scientists also examined a woolly mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius), a steppe bison (Bison Priscus), Elk (Alces alces), deer (Cervus elephus sibiricus), and, potentially, a musk ox (Ovibos moschatus). Analyses of the bones dated them back to a series of 20 different radiocarbon dates, all ranging from the period between 20 and 40 thousand years ago.

Although this finding solely points to animals, and not humans, inhibiting the Arctic region 40,000 years back, the discovery has now become the basis of further analyses, which currently date human activity in the Ob region back to 40,000 years ago. This is because two reindeer antlers held traces of human activity amongst this group of bones, which have only recently been analyzed.

The question of the initial settlement of the Arctic and Subarctic by an ancient man of the modern type (Homo sapiens sapiens) has long been of interest to scientists. The valley of the Ob River is often considered a potential migration route for Paleolithic man. It is believed that modern man came to Europe and Asia 50,000-60,000 thousand years ago.

What is still unclear is where the modern man lived before and how he crossed the Urals? For a long time, the hypothesis prevailed that 12,000-30,000 years ago, the north of Western Siberia was covered by a large glacier (just like the north of America and Europe). To the south of this glacier was a dammed basin reaching 130 meters.

For this reason, it was believed that looking for archaeological sites dating back to the period of 30-40 thousand years ago in the north was pointless. It was confirmed by the almost complete absence of finds (tools, sites, organic matter).

Humans have been in the Arctic for over 40,000 years, new discoveries reveal 3
Fragment of reindeer antler with traces of anthropological impact. © Image Credit: Budker Institute of Nuclear Physics of the Siberian Branch of the RAS

Thanks to the international research program using AMS dating and optical-stimulating luminescence, researchers from Europe and Russia proved that there was no ice cover in the north of Western Siberia 12,000-30,000 years ago. It was much earlier: 90,000-60,000 years ago north of Salekhard. The level of the ice-dammed basin in the Ob valley did not exceed 60 meters.

This is an entirely different paleogeographic picture. For thirty years, I was convinced that in the north of Western Siberia, there were all the conditions for the existence of an ancient person. Now we had the opportunity to try to prove it: to find traces of Homo sapiens in the north of the Ob 30,000-50,000 years ago, – the project manager, head of the laboratory of the Institute of Geology and Mineralogy named after V.I. V.S commented in a press statement.

As reported by the Barents Observer “the analysis suggests that Homo sapiens and not only Neanderthals inhabited the Arctic Circle in the Upper Paleolithic age. About two decades ago, it was only certain that Neanderthals, and not Homo sapiens, were occupants in the region during the period.”

This was discovered by radiocarbon dating a set of bones unearthed in 2001 at the Yakutia site. The radiocarbon analysis suggested that the Neanderthals had found themselves in the region approximately 28,500-27,000 years ago.

The new AMS analysis has hence provided two major breakthroughs. The first one is that Homo sapiens, as well as Neanderthals, inhabited the Arctic circle during the Paleolithic Age, and the second finding is that Homo sapiens lived north of the Arctic circle already 40,000 years ago.

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