New data for the Early Upper Paleolithic of Kostenki (Russia)

Robert Dinnis* (Corresponding Author), Alexander Bessudnov, Natasha Reynolds, Thibaut Devièse, Abi Pate, Mikhail Sablin, Andrei Sinitsyn, Thomas Higham

*Corresponding author for this work

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Several questions remain regarding the timing and nature of the Neanderthal-anatomically modern human (AMH) transition in Europe. The situation in Eastern Europe is generally less clear due to the relatively few sites and a dearth of reliable radiocarbon dates. Claims have been made for both notably early AMH and notably late Neanderthal presence, as well as for early AMH (Aurignacian) dispersal into the region from Central/Western Europe. The Kostenki-Borshchevo complex (European Russia) of Early Upper Paleolithic (EUP) sites offers high-quality data to address these questions. Here we revise the chronology and cultural status of the key sites of Kostenki 17 and Kostenki 14. The Kostenki 17/II lithic assemblage shares important features with Proto-Aurignacian material, strengthening an association with AMHs. New radiocarbon dates for Kostenki 17/II of ∼41–40 ka cal BP agree with new dates for the recently excavated Kostenki 14/IVw, which shows some similarities to Kostenki 17/II. Dates of ≥41 ka cal BP from other Kostenki sites cannot be linked to diagnostic archaeological material, and therefore cannot be argued to date AMH occupation. Kostenki 14's Layer in Volcanic Ash assemblage, on the other hand, compares to Early Aurignacian material. New radiocarbon dates targeting diagnostic lithics date to 39–37 ka cal BP. Overall, Kostenki's early EUP is in good agreement with the archaeological record further west. Our results are therefore consistent with models predicting interregional penecontemporaneity of diagnostic EUP assemblages. Most importantly, our work highlights ongoing challenges for reliably radiocarbon dating the period. Dates for Kostenki 14 agreed with the samples’ chronostratigraphic positions, but standard pre-treatment methods consistently produced incorrect ages for Kostenki 17/II. Extraction of hydroxyproline from bone collagen using preparative high-performance liquid chromatography, however, yielded results consistent with the samples’ chronostratigraphic position and with the layer's archaeological contents. This suggests that for some sites compound-specific techniques are required to build reliable radiocarbon chronologies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)21-40
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Human Evolution
Early online date19 Dec 2018
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2019

Bibliographical note

Acknowledgements: This research was supported by the Leverhulme Trust (RPG-2012-800). A.B.'s work was supported by grants RFBR 18-39-20009 and RSF 18-78-00136, and by state assignment 0184-2018-0012. NR was supported during the writing of this paper by a Postdoctoral Study Grant from the Fondation Fyssen and the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No 747400. A.S. acknowledges grant RFBR 17-06-00319a and state assignment 0184-2018-0012, and we also acknowledge the participation of ZIN RAS (state assignment АААА-А17-117022810195-3). The research that enabled the production of HYP radiocarbon dates came from the European Research Council under the European Union's Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013); ERC grant 324139 “PalaeoChron”, which also supported N.R., T.D. and T.H. We acknowledge support from the UK Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) for the Oxford node of the national NERC Radiocarbon Facility, and gratefully acknowledge all staff of the ORAU, especially Dan Comeskey for his work on HYP pretreatment. Many thanks are due to the numerous friends and colleagues with whom we have discussed the Kostenki EUP and to several colleagues who kindly offered comments on an earlier draft of this paper, as well as to the reviewers for their helpful comments. We are very grateful to William Banks for discussions, and Maria Medvedeva and Natalia Lazarevskaya for their generous help with the IIMK RAN archive material.

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  • Anatomically modern humans
  • Bladelet technology
  • Early Upper Paleolithic
  • Eastern Europe
  • Kostenki
  • Radiocarbon dating


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