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1 July 2011

First people of the Baikal

VSP. Translated by Heda Jindrak

First people of the BaikalWhen did people first appear at lake Baikal? Regardless of the fact that the first camp sites on the lake shores date to 20-25 thousand years, scientists believe that people first came here no less than 300-400 thousand years ago, in the Middle Paleolithic era. Not all of the puzzles of the lake can be solved right now. It is possible that even older finds are hiding beneath its waters. And who knows, possibly one day our descendants will find even older evidence of human activity. Tagir Abdulov,  archeologist and science worker at the laboratory of paleoecology and human evolution of the History department of IGU, told us about Siberian "madonnas", the Kitoy and the Glazkov cultures at a lecture of   the Center for independent social research and humanitarian foundation "Baikal. The Third Millennium."  of the  Voskresnoye university of the Humanities


The Lake Homo erectus


Baikal is evolving all the time, it "breathes", and its stormy life makes the work of archeologists more difficult. The oldest camp sites on the Baikal shores have been preserved in its northern part, and they are dated to 20-25 thousand years.  It is sad, but even older objects are very likely to be submerged under water, at the depth of 50 or more meters. However, various finds on Olkhon, which have been picked up from the surface of the ground,  allow us to say that people have lived here already in the Middle Paleolithic - about 300 - 400 thousand years ago.

The history of humans at Baikal cannot be separated from the history of humanity as a whole, the scientist believes. Today science is examining two hypotheses of human origin. "There are two points of view, so to say, not of the first appearance of humans, but of the "humanization" of humans," - says Tagir Abdulov. Some believe that the first homeland of people is Eastern and South-Eastern Africa. It is the zone of Great African lakes, with large tectonic fractures about 8 - 5 million years old. It is believed that volcanic activity produced an increase in background radiation and stimulated a long chain of mutations. And the ancient hominids turned into humans as a result. According to the second version, there were two centers of  human origin - African and Asian. The work of geneticists lately focused on the "African" version. It turned out that all the population groups of the globe have their roots on the "black continent". And Africa has yielded incomparably more Lower Paleolithic evidence, there are copious remains of Homo habilis (skillful man) and his first tools. It is an ordinary pebble, knapped in a few places, with a sharp edge, to be used to skin animals. In  Asia and India three are significantly fewer of  such campsites. Supporters of  the "Asian" theory only ask for time: they are sure that Asia will yield older finds. Then we will be able to speak of two centers of human origins with confidence. And why should Baikal not be the place of the second center?  After all, the age of tectonic fractures in the lake region is the same as of those in Africa.

But this is just  the journalists' idea,  scientists are more cautious about speaking of the Baikal origins of human race.


Siberia is not Backward


Number 2 out of three hundred finds from the area of Park of the Parisian Commune in Irkutsk only added to the mystery of the history of ancient Glazkov culture.

So far, evidence of  activities of humans living at Baikal 300 - 400 years ago has been found only in the "pick-up" condition; the oldest campsites in Baikal area are 20-25 thousand years old, that is Upper Paleolithic. It has to be said that until 1928, when the legendary anthropologist Mikhail Gerasimov discovered an ancient human campsite at Malta on the Belaya River, European scientists took a totally skeptical attitude towards hypotheses about the existence of any developed paleolithic cultures in Siberia. Right after Malta, campsite Buret was discovered, and then , archeologists found one after another campsites along the Lena and Angara. But Malta turned out to be the first extremely interesting paleolithic campsite for our country. The material stimulated a real furor  in the world of science, because in its perfection, from the art objects, this campsite was in no way different from French  campsites of the same period.  Before this, there was often an opportunity to hear from European scientists working in Siberia something like this: "Siberia is a backward region. Even in the Paleolithic period, only relict species lived here. But France, France is the center of civilization." With difficulty and unwillingly, Europeans had to renounce ideas like that. Because materials from Malta  turned out to be if not richer than those  of  European campsites found so far, then definitely no worse than that. To that date, in Western Europe several  paleolithic stone-lined dwellings had been discovered, and in Malta- eleven of them in one place. Mikhail Gerasimov successfully proved  that these stone arrangements were supportive elements of a bone structure of the dwelling. Massive bones and tusks of the mammoth and rhinoceros were stood upright and surrounded by stones as additional support. All this would be covered with animal skins.  The tusks could serve very well as the skeleton, because they were 2 - 3 meters in length.


But the most important - "Paleolithic madonnas" were discovered at Malta - figures with hypertrophic expression of female traits. When the main area of the campsite was excavated, so many of these figures showed up that even to this day they represent one half of the entire world collection of "paleolithic madonnas". West European scientists at first even suggested that this was a falsification. But after several scientific commissions visited Malta, verifying the stratigraphic conditions where these "madonnas" were found, the question was closed. Later similar objects were found also in European part of Russia; in Kostenki on the Don, a large number of paleolithic campsites were found that are now known all over the world.  The subject of "backwardness" of Russian Paleolithic was closed. Malta astonished the imagination of scientists so much, that separate finds from this campsite  became the subjects  of independent research.  A plaque with multiple groups of dots, for example, is considered to be an ancient astronomical chart by Vitaly Larichev, Doctor of Historical sciences.


Politics and Memory


In the Neolithic era, or the New Stone Age, two even more amazing cultures existed in the Baikal area.  Scientists do not understand to this day just what the mysterious Kitoy culture represented. This culture of ancient people , who strew blood-red ochre on their skeletons and graves, appeared on the shores of Baikal suddenly, without connection to Mesolithic material. It is known that they were of  mongoloid type. But at Malta, several bone fragments of a boy were found which were enough to evaluate his racial affinity. He was not mongoloid, he was Europeoid.  That means that 23-25 thousand years ago Europeoids lived here. Nobody knows exactly when people with Europeoid faces were displaced by another race. But the skeletons of 7000 years of age were already mongoloid, and of Central Asian origin.


First ceramics appeared here in the Neolithic; during this time people learned to cut, saw and polish stone artistically. Among objects of this epoch found on Baikal territory, astonishing compound fish hooks were found. One part is stone, the other bone. All this was connected with tendons and rawhide strips. The hooks were of various sizes - from 2 to 15 centimeters, with loops for tying fishing line and point of the hook. The principle of action was just like in today's jig bait. The central part was broken up and it wiggled like a sick, injured fish. With such hooks, apparently, they were able to fish under ice, from boats and from overhanging trees. And during this time the people's love of beauty also grew.  The burials yielded "spoons" decorated with moose heads, made with astonishing elegance.


The first people who started using bronze on our territory were of so-called Glazkov culture. This culture, according to contemporary idea, was distributed in Trans-Baikal area, along the Selenga valley, as well as  here, along the Upper Lena and Angara all the way to its delta. The period of its existence was from 5 to 3.5 -3 thousand years ago. It was named Glazkov because the artifacts were first discovered in the Glazkov suburb of Irkutsk.  The first burials were discovered during construction of the railway. According to the scientists' calculations, about a hundred burials were disrupted and destroyed by the construction project. Glazkov burials were characteristic by head position downstream, and they had a specific assemblage of jewelry and hunting and fishing tools. The skeletons, just like the Kitoy, were copiously strewn with ocher.


It is believed today that the origin of Glazkov people is in Trans-Baikal, in areas bordering on the Great Steppe, which stretches from Manchuria all the way to the Carpathians.  However, many scientists, including Alexei Okladnikov, believed that this was a local culture, descended immediately from Neolithic cultures which existed on Baikal territory. The Academician supposed that the Kitoy were the ancestors of the Glazkov culture, even though later research showed that the time span between the Kitoy and Glazkov cultures was on the order of three thousand years.


-  I have often met with such questions as the origin of Buryats, -  remarked Tagir Abdulov. - People believe that they have been living here since time immemorial, and that Malta and Buret are an achievement of their ancestors. I have to say that Buryats have appeared on this territory relatively late.  All the people here, starting with the Kitoy, are Mongoloid. For that reason, if they say that Buryats have been here for a long time, we can say: as an expression of race, yes, that can be documented on the order of 7000 years. But beside anthropology, we have to consider linguistic and cultural data. And these data show that proto-Buryats appeared here 1- 1.1 thousand years ago.


It is because monuments have been found around the Baikal that on the basis of material culture and linguistically belong to the Turks. There are three separate finds of fragments of Turkic runes. 


Prot-Buryats displaced Turks from this territory, but they themselves, during a process of assimilation with remains of the Kurykans, Tungus, turned into Buryats by early 17th century when the first Russians came.  Turks, who are usually called "Kurykans" in this area, according to a widespread but not the only hypothesis, migrated along the Lena and became the ancestors of today's Yakuts.  As a matter of fact that is what Yakuts believe.


-  I worked a lot on Upper Lena in Shishkino and Makarovo districts, and in late '80's and early '90's we often met with Yakuts who specially came here to repeat the voyage of their ancestors down the Lena, either on foot or on rafts, - says Tagir Abdulov.  - They have legends that at one time they lived in southern areas.  These legends were documented already in 19th century.


The coat of arms of Yakutia shows a petroglyph of a warrior on a horse from Shishkino cliffs.  And the well-known scene with floating boats is interpreted by Yakuts as the voyage of their ancestors down the Lena.  True, some scientists prefer to see it as symbolic of a funerary ritual, and not the travel log of Kurykans.  As a matter of fact, the Yakuts, as well as Buryats, don't care. Everybody has their politics. And their memory.

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