Academic Master


Ethnoarcheology Article Review

Question 1

In the article from the positions of ethnoarchaeology old Evenkian hunting sites are analyzed in places of forgings (mass slaughtering of deer at the intersections of migration routes of animals and large rivers) on the basis of studying one of these places in the upper reaches of the Olenyok River. The economic role of such large-scale mining sites is well-known and recognized in archeology. The central theme of the discussion in this article is their social, ideological, and territorial role. The second emphasis in the discussion was made on the extent to which we can extrapolate the social, ideological, and territorial aspects of the fishery, recorded at modern sites, on the characteristics of the Upper Paleolithic monuments with a similar economic basis.

The advantage of ethnoarchaeology in comparison with traditional archeology is that it allows the studying of materials of “live” cultures how ideological, spiritual, and ritual aspects of culture interact with the material culture and economic order, and how the natural environment is perceived and used. In addition, ethnoarchaeology can help us overcome the limitations of our imagination and cultural experience, documenting a wide range of complex cultural features, processes, and relationships. The central question remains whether the array of data obtained as a result of ethnoarchaeological studies can serve as a basis for improving archaeological theory, interpretation, and modeling, which would allow us to more fully coordinate our understanding of prehistoric societies with the types of reality observed in modern societies.

The study was carried out on the initiative of the Polish Research Council, the Norwegian Research Council and the Ethnographic Context of the Baikal Archaeological Project, with the support of the Program for Large Joint Research Projects, the Canadian Research Council for Social and Human Sciences achieve a successful result in comparing prehistoric materials related to hunter-gatherer societies it is very important to understand the micro-, small-, medium- and large-scale variations of material culture and their dynamics, 2) the formation of the ability to associate intangible cultural traits with material characteristics, models and processes, 3) the replacement of our rigid ideas about the interactions between fixed conceptual elements, such as types of artifacts or settlements, strategies for resource development, etc., a new thinking that allows to take into account the mechanism of acceptance and individual solutions, based on personal preferences, the possibilities of strategic decision-making, and the development of strategic partnerships.

Region of research on combining tasks, on good knowledge of ecological micro-niches, etc., a more complete understanding of how cultural landscapes are organized and strategically used as an active and dynamic ideological interface between culture and “undeveloped” nature. 5 When assessing the possibilities of generalizing observations of modern hunter-gatherer societies, it is important to understand that their cultures are composed of elements that may seem identical or similar (with the same ideological and practical background) in different cultural groups. Interestingly, the models for the organization of housing reveal insignificant variations, even in a broad perspective, while for the bearish ritual, for example, the Evenk society is characterized by great variability.

The main sense of moving deer in the landscape is the constant search for territories with acceptable conditions. In summer animals make great efforts to get away from the nemesis. In winter, the thickness and uniformity of the snow cover is an important factor for them. If good animal conditions are observed in a limited area, as in some mountainous areas, deer do not migrate over long distances but move up and down the mountains in small herds. On the plains or in mountainous areas, where there are no necessary conditions at different times of the year, deer make long seasonal migrations. In Siberia, ethnoarchaeological studies were conducted in three regions in which groups of Evenks, traditionally practicing deer hunting, adhere to completely different fishing strategies. In the Kalarsky district, in the north of the Chita region, the strategy is based on the production of non-migrating deer in mountain forests. In the central part of the Katangsky district, located in the north of the Irkutsk region, the Evenks mostly hunt for moose. Despite the fact that this territory can serve as an ideal feeding base for reindeer, migrating from the north to the south of the herd is always bypassed by the side, possibly due to the east-west orientation of the tributaries of the Lower Tunguska and the existence of a convenient migration path to the west along the Ilimpi River. In the Olenyok district, located in the western part of Yakutia, in the taiga zone (larch-pine forests) studied in the framework of this work, the migratory herds of deer grazing in the tundra during the summer period are the economic basis of life of the Evenks, and in the taiga to the south of it during the winter. Interestingly, the Evenki in Olenek district does not lead a more mobile way of life than the population of the other regions studied.

“Hunting season” begins during the September migrations of large herds across the region. Approximately in May, the deer will again move north. Still, these migrations are more diffuse, and the animals are less attractive as prey because they lose a significant amount of fat during the winter. The main hunt takes place in September and October during the mating season when animals become easier prey. Since males lose a significant proportion of fat during mating, the best meat is mined at the very beginning of the season. Meat is preserved in different ways (drying/smelling the pits for its storage, excavating in permafrost, etc.) for consumption during the rest of winter when small local herds are also being hunted. Large groups of hunters conduct Autumn hunting in the so-called places where the deer cross the main rivers. For the remainder of the winter period, hunting is conducted by small family groups (clan groups of 3 or 4 families), each of which hunts within its clearly defined hunting grounds near the place of the corresponding deer crossing. A fatty meat diet during the winter is ideal for Arctic hunters, as it increases the ability of the human body to withstand low temperatures due to a change in the nature of metabolism. 10 Evenks consider it impossible to persecute large herds of deer during their migrations, which some archaeologists suggested. 11 Migratory herds move so fast that they cannot be pursued, even with the use of domestic deer as transport (for riding and harnessing).

London, to existence, plays an important role in most hunter-gatherer societies, but for an outsider, it is very difficult to judge the “irrationality” of such a cultural element in its own, absolutely distinct, culture. The fact that the notions of our industrial society about “rules” and “traditions” are more static and, thus, completely different from the much more pragmatic and circumstantial ways of their perception and application in small societies, probably caused many misconceptions and simplifications in our understanding of such societies. 15 If we, as archaeologists, want to be able to model prehistoric hunter-gatherer societies on the basis of an insufficiently culturally representative and scantily preserved material, it is very important to have a good understanding of the basic features and functions of such societies. Obviously, it is necessary to model and try to understand prehistoric hunter-gatherer societies based on information about known groups of hunter-gatherers, instead of applying our own cultural rationality and values to the objects of our research. Therefore, it is important to consider the intangible aspects of the material and practical/strategic features of hunter-gatherer societies.

Q2 a

Studying the modern population at the population level, the anthropologist depends on himself and organizes his research in accordance with the new principles. This is not the case in paleoanthropology, where the material is still collected in general by accident, with archaeological excavations of burial grounds. Archaeological excavations, the purpose of which would be the collection of paleoanthropological collections, are extremely rare. This circumstance is explained by the small number of staff of paleoanthropologists, who possess the method of independent excavations, and the lack of interest of archaeologists in excavations of cemeteries, which give mainly paleoanthropological material and small archaeological information. However, understanding the psychological and objective causes of this situation does not in itself correct it. Meanwhile, the study of paleoanthropological material at the population level also makes it possible to obtain a number of additional data, without which it is now impossible to imagine the anthropological reconstruction of the ancient population.

Of course, there are no direct methods for determining the number and structure of ancient populations. In general, it can be regarded as a population buried in one cemetery, but one must take into account the duration of its functioning. If it is significant, then we are faced with a phenomenon that does not occur in the study of the modern population – with the population as it was continued, deployed in time. It includes a much larger number of generations than in the modern one. When assessing life expectancy, especially if there is no evidence of its dramatic change, this circumstance does not matter. However, when determining the number of ancient populations based on the number of burials in cemeteries, especially large ones, one must constantly remember this in order not to get inflated figures. Precise archaeological methods for determining the duration of use of certain cemeteries have not yet been developed. Therefore, if there are no contraindications (the custom of separate from adult burials of children, a specific male or female sample, etc.), the population can be conditionally accepted as a set of people buried in a separate small burial ground, consisting of several dozen burials. The burial ground, of course, must be excavated completely, and the paleoanthropological material from it is collected in the most careful way, including skeletons from children’s and infantile burials. This, of course, will not be populations in the full sense of the word, but sub- or micropopulations, but they were, we must think, the lowest stage of population differentiation in the early stages of human development.

The first stage of population research in paleoanthropology begins with the refinement of the boundaries of ethnic communities and the identification of as small and homogeneous groups as possible on paleoanthropological material. For example, Drevlyane for many years were considered representatives of a broad-faced, massive, and long-legged type, and were contrasted in this respect with other East Slavic tribes. The breakdown according to the nature of the burials made it possible to single out a group of Volhynians. And it turned out that the described type is typical for them.

These three examples show how important it is to translate paleoanthropological studies into a population level and from a comparison of the total paleoanthropological data on the population of archeological cultures to the comparison of individual burial grounds, or even smaller ones, allocated according to cultural peculiarities within the burial grounds, that is, ultimately to the comparison of anthropological features of separate populations.

So, anthropology has now shifted to a population-based level of research. The population approach to the study of the modern population made it possible to outline the contours of new topics within which the anthropologist can come to the aid of a historian and an ethnographer, for example, in assessing the role of isolation in the formation of certain ethnic communities. However, in order to transfer the population approach to the study of the ancient population, the anthropologist, in turn, needs the help of an archaeologist. A full study of ancient burial grounds in the process of excavation and careful collection of all bone remains from burials without exception would be a good response to the call for such help.

Q2 b

In Buryatia, ancient rock carvings in the caves were deciphered. These are encoded in the symbols of shamanic spells. The caves, apparently, served as a kind of shamanic temple. Let us note that shamanism is the primordial religion of the people of Siberia.

Petroglyph petroglyphs belong to the so-called. “Bronze Age” about three thousand years before our era. It is believed that in Buryatia they were left by the people of the “culture of tile graves” (ancient Mongoloids) and “kereksur cultures” (the European tribe). These competing peoples inhabited Siberia in ancient times, near places with rock paintings there are always a lot of their burials.

According to the well-known archaeologist Alexei Tivanenko, caves were revered as sacred places in ancient times. This cult dates back to the Paleolithic era when caves served the ancient tribes as shelter and protection from bad weather and predators. Later, in memory of those times, the caves became a place of mystical rites.

The petroglyphs of the Transbaikalian caves are quite typical. Silhouettes of people, hovering birds, slanting crosses, clumps of spots-points, sometimes in a “fence”. Is executed red ocher, a natural paint, sustained century? They are usually not applied inside the caves themselves but on the sides of the entrance. It is believed that these images bear a cultic meaning.

“The bird of prey, proudly hovering over all the other figures-stains and little men, figures of animals in the rock paintings of Selenga, Jida, and Uda, can therefore be deciphered as a bearer of light, heavenly power, as a pledge of fertility and happiness, as the supreme patron of cattle-breeding communities, arranging in ancient times their celebrations at the foot of these red-painted ocher granite rocks. The image of the bird was nothing more than a prayer to the sky and at the same time a magic formula, a curse “- wrote Academician Alexei Petrovich Okladnikov in the work” Petroglyphs of Transbaikalia “. In the Shamanism of Buryatia, the image of an eagle can be interpreted as the spirit of an ancestor, the messenger of heaven, or the companion of a shaman. In general, the popular image of birds, or birds – a combination of avian and anthropomorphic traits.

Silhouettes of little men archaeologists often interpreted as “ongons” – shamanic spirits, or images of ancient shamans. On the right wall of the cave, Bain-Hara is a picture in the form of a man’s silhouette. On the head, there are two long “horns”. In the opinion of the shamans of the Tangari society, this is the ritual crown, the “orga”, which is worn for entry into a mystical trance. In the right hand of the figure, some blurred object is guessed. It can be a shamanic tambourine.

Sometimes a petroglyph occurs in the form of a combination of lines and spots forming a circle. This is believed to be a shamanic tambourine or a symbol of the sun. Such a petroglyph can be seen on the “steps” of the grotto on Kamenka and two meters from the cave of Bain-Hara. The pattern is distributed in the form of a cluster of spot-points, sometimes in a “fence”. It is treated as the souls of ancestors or people of the tribe, sometimes as their cattle. “Fence” also symbolizes the living space. The listed types of figures are combined in a certain order. This is believed to be due to the formalism of sacral rituals; here it is clearly not just artistic compositions.


Kelly, R. L. 1983 Hunter-Gatherer Mobility Strategies. Journal of Anthropological Research 39(3): 277–306.

Crombé, Philippe, Joris Sergant, Erick Robinson, and Jeroen De Reu 2011 Hunter-gatherer responses to environmental change during the Pleistocene-Holocene transition in the southern North Sea basin: Final Palaeolithic-Final Mesolithic land use in northwest Belgium. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 30(3): 454–471.

Morgan, Christopher 2009 Climate change, uncertainty and prehistoric hunter-gatherer mobility. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 28(4): 382–396.

Morgan, Christopher, Ashley Losey, and Richard Adams 2012 High-Altitude Hunter-Gatherer Residential Occupations in Wyoming’s Wind River Range. North American Archaeologist 33(1): 35–79.

García-Diez, Marcos, and Manuel Vaquero 2015 Looking at the Camp: Paleolithic Depiction of a Hunter-Gatherer Campsite. PLoS ONE 10(12).



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