Eastern Europe’s “Transitional Industry”? Deconstructing the Early Streletskian

Robert Dinnis* (Corresponding Author), Alexander Bessudnov, N. Reynolds, Thibaut Devièse, Alexander E. Dudin, Abi Pate, Mikhail V. Sablin, Andrei Sinitsyn, Thomas Higham

*Corresponding author for this work

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The Streletskian is central to understanding the onset of the Upper Palaeolithic on the East European Plain. Early Streletskian assemblages are frequently seen as marking the Neanderthal-anatomically modern human (AMH) anthropological transition, as well as the Middle-to-Upper Palaeolithic archaeological transition. The age of key Streletskian assemblages, however, remains unclear, and there are outstanding questions over how they relate to Middle and Early Upper Palaeolithic facies. The three oldest Streletskian layers—Kostenki 1 Layer V, Kostenki 6 and Kostenki 12 Layer III—were excavated by A. N. Rogachev in the mid-20th century. Here, we re-examine these layers in light of problems noted during Rogachev’s campaigns and later excavations. Layer V in the northern part of Kostenki 1 is the most likely assemblage to be unmixed. A new radiocarbon date of 35,100 ± 500 BP (OxA- X-2717-21) for this assemblage agrees with Rogachev’s stratigraphic interpretation and contradicts later claims of a younger age. More ancient radiocarbon dates for Kostenki 1 Layer V are from areas lacking diagnostic Streletskian points. The Kostenki 6 assemblage’s stratigraphic context is extremely poor, but new radiocarbon dates are consistent with Rogachev’s view that the archaeological material was deposited prior to the CI tephra (i.e. >34.3 ka BP). Multiple lines of evidence indicate that Kostenki 12 Layer III contains material of different ages. Despite some uncertainty over the precise relationship between the dated sample and diagnostic lithic material, Kostenki 1 Layer V (North) therefore currently provides the best age estimate for an early Streletskian context. This age is younger than fully Upper Palaeolithic assemblages elsewhere at Kostenki. Other “Streletskian” assemblages and Streletskian points from younger contexts at Kostenki are briefly reviewed, with possible explanations for their chronostratigraphic distribution considered. We caution that the cultural taxon Streletskian should not be applied to assemblages based simply on the presence of bifacially worked artefacts.
Original languageEnglish
Article number6
Number of pages46
JournalJournal of Paleolithic Archaeology
Early online date13 Mar 2021
Publication statusPublished - 13 Mar 2021

Bibliographical note

We are very grateful to many friends and colleagues for discussions and various help, including Yuri Demindenko, Evgeny Giria, Brad Gravina, Anton Lada, Sergei Lisitsyn and Alexander Otcherednoy. Needless to say, they may or may not agree with our conclusions. We are also thankful to Jesse Davies and Craig Williams for the help with the illustrations and figures. Ekaterina Petrova kindly helped with ID’ing some of the sampled bones. We thank the staff of the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit at the University of Oxford for their support with the chemical preparation and the measurement of the samples. We are also grateful to the three anonymous reviewers for their thoughtful and constructive comments, which helped improve the paper. This paper is a contribution to Leverhulme Trust project RPG-2012-800. The research leading to some of our radiocarbon results received funding from the European Research Council under the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013); ERC grant 324139 “PalaeoChron” awarded to Professor Tom Higham. AB and AS acknowledge Russian Science Foundation grant number 20-78-10151 and Russian Foundation of Basic Research grant numbers 18-39-20009 and 20-09-00233 for support of their work. We also acknowledge the participation of IHMC RAS (state assignment 0184-2019-0001) and ZIN RAS (state assignment АААА-А19-119032590102-7).


  • Middle Palaeolithic
  • Upper Palaeolithic
  • Anatomically modern humans
  • Neanderthals
  • Radiocarbon dating
  • Lithic assemblages


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