Irina Kotlyarova, Candidate of Historical Sciences, Chief Researcher at the Kostenki Archeological Museum-Reserve in the Khokholsky District, told about Kostenki man sites, mammoths and primitive people. The open lecture “Journey to the Stone Age” was held in Voronezh bookstore “Amital” on Pushkinskaya Street on Thursday, January 24.

– Every resident of the Voronezh Region should be proud of Kostenki. There is no other place on Earth with such a concentration of finds from different times. Therefore, researchers from all over the globe constantly come to us. Kostenki has been excavated for 140 years, the lecturer noted.

The RIA “Voronezh” columnist put down the most interesting highlights of the speech.

On the age of the finds and delusions

– The resettlement of people in the territory of modern Europe began 20-22 thousand years ago. We are often asked about the age of the Kostenki finds. The dates vary greatly. In order to have a certain coordinate system from which one can make a start, we usually speak about the age of 20-25 thousand years. This time is the brightest. Works of art, tools, housings have preserved there – there is something to show and to tell about. When people visit more ancient man sites, for example, Kostenki-14, I often see mistrust on their faces. They think: “There must be a State secret here. There is no need to dig such huge holes in order to find miserable fragments of pebbles. Probably, there is something more serious, they just keep silent about it.” This opinion is popular among those who are not archaeologists. In fact, of course, it is not true. Due to the fact that these finds are very ancient, poorly preserved, they will be uninteresting and incomprehensible to a wide circle of people.


On the life of people at the territory of the modern Voronezh Region

– The present-day Britain was hidden under a block of ice. This colossal ice, according to modern geologists, was slipping down from the North Pole, covering the entire northern territory of the European continent, and inexorably moved to the center of the Russian Plain, where Moscow is today. When a block of ice of such huge size comes closer, it becomes uncomfortable to live on the territory next to it. Judging by the archaeologists’ excavations, there was the same permafrost, which has preserved in Siberia. Our ancestors lived on this territory, in modern Europe and Russia. Here, archaeologists discovered sites with complex bone-earthen dwellings built from a large number of mammoth bones. The same dwellings are in Kostenki.


The first man site in Kostenki was discovered by anthropologist Ivan Polyakov. It is from his archaeological research that we are counting down the history of the excavations in Kostenki – 140 years. In 1879, he pottered around the garden of a local resident and found a mammoth bones in the dug pit. It was the very first, most interesting and one of the most outstanding man sites Kostenki-1.

There are 26 man site locations on the map of Kostenki, and there are actually more of them today. Many of them have several cultural backgrounds. This means that people lived here, then they left, then they came again. If we cut the ground here vertically, we will see a layer cake. If we count not individual sites, but cultural layers, then the numbers will be different – not 26 thousand years, but over 60 thousand. If we talk about how long the settlements were organized here, then we are talking about an interval of 50 thousand years to 18 thousand years ago.

Today we know that at least an ancient village was located in Kostenki. One dwelling is preserved in the museum building. Another two are still being excavated. We also know about another dwelling, fragments of which we found in the garden of a resident of the village. It has also been preserved, but archaeologists have not yet begun to excavate it.

On the dwelling made of the mammoth bones

– The items excavated by the archaeologists (large bone circles), most likely, served as a certain foundation of the house. The bones were laid in a certain order, symmetrically. Scientists suggest that it was a good basis for inserting beams into them. The bone floor inside was probably covered with skins, and skins also covered the beams. There are no fundamental differences in how the image of the past was reconstructed 50 years ago and today. Despite the fact that new data and findings regularly appear, archaeologists have long ago made up the impression of what the dwellings of ancient people looked like.

On the ancients’ clothes 

– People who lived at the same time as mammoths are called mammoth hunters. They built houses of mammoth bones, heated their dwellings with these bones, portrayed mammoths in different ways – in drawings and sculptures. But their clothes, most likely, were not made of mammoths. The mammoths’ skin is 10 cm thick. The hair under the belly is half a meter, and the hair hanging from the shoulder blades reached 1.5 m. It would be hard to wear such skins. But they could be used as carpets.


On animals

– Not only mammoths, but also musk oxen, wolves, hares, arctic foxes, and reindeer lived in the Stone Age. We know all this from the bones of these animals. Reindeer were also actively hunted for their skins. This hunting still exists thanks to the amazing properties of these skins to keep warm.

The Stone Age gave rise to animals of incredible sizes. The tusks of a mammoth male were 3.5–4 m long. A large-horned or giant deer had spadelike horns with a span of up to 3.5 m. Why? This is a demonstration of their selfhood, importance, although this is generally inconvenient as they could cling to something.


On the hunt for mammoths

– How did a mammoth hunt look like? A few years ago, scientists believed that people surrounded the animal from all sides and pushed it to the pit. There were different versions on whether this hole was dug specifically or it was a natural landscape. The mammoth fell into the pit and broke its neck. This animal was supposed to be too big to hunt it with spears and arrows. But in 2017, traces of stone tips on the skeletons of mammoths were found, specifically, on the area of the spine and ribs, that is, most likely the mammoth died of these wounds. It shows that the mammoths were hunted.


About the Indrik-Beast 

– In the XVII century, people did not begin to find the skeletons of mammoths, the Europeans thought they looked like unicorn bulls with strange curved horns. Even the drawings of those years has preserved. In Kostenki, local residents came up with a legend that a huge beast dwelt on the banks of the Don, nicknamed Indrik. It wanted to help young children to cross the river and drank it. This made it incredible in size and burst from the strain, and its bones scattered around the district in a fanciful way. This is how the residents of Kostenki of the 17th century explained the bone structures that we excavate today. The mammoth as a mammoth was identified only at the turn of the XVIII-XIX centuries.


About statuettes without faces

– One of the symbols of Kostenki are nude statues of women, “Kostenki Venuses.” They were made of mammoth tusk. There is either no head at all, or the face is not depicted. The statutes have hypertrophied female sexual signs to emphasize the purpose of their creation – most likely, they are amulets for women in childbirth. These figures were made to help pregnant or delivering women. All primitive peoples believed that the soul leaved the human body during sleep. Therefore, the statuettes did not have faces, so that the soul that had left the body did not confuse whom to return to. In addition, there is an important point of incompleteness – this principle is characteristic of all nations that have not reached civilizational maturity. If you build a house, do not finish it. Leave something that you will finish later, symbolizing the continuation of the life of this house in the future. According to such peoples, a ready-made house with finishing is a soulless dwelling.