VITA ANTIQUA, ISSN 2522-9419 (Online), 2519-4542 (Print)
Center for Paleoethnological research
VITA ANTIQUA 13, 2021. Dwellings of Prehistoric Europe: social adaptations in variable environments.
Early mesolitic habitation in the Shpan-Koba Grotto (Crimea, Ukraine)
Institute of Archaeology, National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine
Shpan-Koba Grotto is currently the only stratified Mesolithic and Neolithic site on the plateau of the First Range of the Crimean Mountains (Yayla). Lower Early Mesolithic cultural layers of the site (archaeological unit 3) have exceptional preservation due to the rapid accumulation of sediment and infrequent settlement of the grotto. Their planigraphy, number and composition of the artifacts can tell about the peculiarities of the economical use of the landscapes and rock shelter of the Crimean highlands at that time.
Cultural layers of archaeological unit 3 date back to time from 11500 to 7600 years cal BP, which belongs to Early Preborial. At this time, the climate was colder and wetter than today, the plateau of the Yayla around Shpan-Koba was covered by mesofit steppes, pine, birch and juniper grew on the slopes of the mountains. According to archaeozoological data, the fauna of the Yayla included such representatives of steppe landscapes as saiga and horse, and simultaneously typical forest animals — red deer, brown bear and lynx.
All cultural layers of the unit 3 are very similar. They belong to the type of «ephemeral»: are represented by small fires, few bones of hunted animals and single flint artifacts. The layers were left by the bearers of the Swiderian culture, due to very few flint artifacts, among them: swidrian points, segment, backed blades, straight dihedral burin, endscrapers. More than half of the found flint artifacts are retouched tools, the rest — blades and flakes, have the traces of use in the form of macro retouch. Such composition of the flint inventory indicates on the hunters (“expeditional”)
character of the habitations in the Shpan-Koba grotto.
The planigraphy of all layers of the unit 3 was similar too. It corresponds to classic ethnographical «Drop-Toss model» be L. Binford, which describe the organization of the living space around the hearth by a group of people from one to five people (Binford 1978; 1983). The central object in each of the cultural layers was one hearth about one meter in diameter with the thin charcoal lens and little piece of burned clay under it. Three concentric zones were traced around the hearths on the western, southern, and southeastern sides: 1) without artifacts; 2) with little bones and flint artifacts (Drop zone); 3) with bigger bones (Toss zone). The «asymmetrical» location of the finds in relation to the hearths indicates the absence of artificial housing in the grotto. The only exception is the habitation of the 3-5/6 cultural layer, in which a small wall of stones was excavated. For it, the «symmetrical» location of the finds around the hearths can be assumed to be an artificial structure made of plant materials, such as a brush windbreak or a hut. The windbreak could also exist in the habitation of layer 3-2, judging by the lack of a Toss zone in the south-western part.
The presence of only one hearth in each of the cultural layers, the location of the artifacts relative to the hearth and their number, the composition of hunting prey, etc., evidence, that Shpan-Koba grotto in the Early Mesolithic was used as dwelling of little group (4—5 people). The occupation, probably, was very short terming, due to small and lowpower fires, very few bones of animals and single flint artifacts, which were found in сertain layers. Their purpose was recreation, skinning and butchering of hunting prey, repair of hunting equipment and more.
Seasonality of the Early Mesolithic dwellings in the grotto, due to archaeozoological data, fall on warm time — spring and summer (Benecke 1999, s 83, abb. 10). The aim of the swidrian people’s hunting expeditions to Yaila was hunting, first, on the saiga and red deer, which migrated from from the steppes of northern Crimea. The number of the red deer also increased in the First Range of the Crimean Mountains during warm seasons. The bones of the brown bear in many layers suggest that it was also an attractive prey.
Keywords: Crimea, Ukraine, Early Mesolithic, habitation, seasonal migrations, Swiderian.
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