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Neanderthals made two epic invasions of Siberia, says new study

By The Siberian Times reporter
28 January 2020

Cold-defying conquests traced to 120,000 years ago when they crossbred with Denisovans, and 60,000 years ago when they collected sparkling crystals.

At the fascinating Chagyrskaya cave the remains of at least five Neanderthal adults and four children were found. Picture: The Siberian Times

Intriguing new findings about the adventurous bison-hunting Neanderthals and their love of the Siberian cold are revealed today.

Their ability to survive and adapt to the cold and dry steppe begs the question: why did they become extinct around 40,000 years ago? 

The traces of the Neanderthals in Siberia are seen clearly in three Altai Mountain locations. 

Their first foray around 120,000 years ago saw them living in famous Denisova Cave when they co-habited with the Denisovan population, another early human branch that was to become extinct.

Bone tools

In the cave were found about 1,200 items of bone tools most of which are made from long tubular bones of bison. Picture: Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography SBRAS

A separate and later influx is noted at Chagyrskaya Cave after a journey of perhaps 4,000 kilometres from Eastern Europe, an odyssey which saw them traverse the North Caucasus, the Caspian Sea, then shrunken by up to 1,000 kilometres, and the Altai Mountains.

‘The settlers of the second wave also left their traces in Okladnikova Cave,’ said Professor Ksenia Kolobova, head of excavations at Chagyrskaya Cave

‘We do not have exact ages when they were there, but the Okladnikova assemblage is definitely younger than Denisova.’

The remains of these settlers were found in Chagyrskaya cave - along with a large number of tools similar to the Miсoquian tools found in Central and Eastern Europe. 

They the two waves were distinct: the Neanderthals from Chagyrskaya cave were not linked to Neanderthals from Denisova cave. 

Stone tool from the cave


Stone tool from the cave

Stone tools found in Chagyrskaya cave are similar to the Micoquian tools found in Europe. Pictures: Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography SBRAS, The Siberian Times

At the fascinating Chagyrskaya cave the remains of at least five Neanderthal adults and four children were found. 

They were definitely a family group often visiting the cave and research continues to see how exactly they were connected.

It is known that these Neanderthals hunted bison and brought parts of carcasses to the cave to butcher them.

Prof Kolobova said: 'With the help of lithic tools, Neanderthals cut the carcasses of bison, which were killed in the valley of the Charysh River, near the cave, and moved the booty to the cave to butcher them. 

'Neanderthals had their own tradition of making stone tools, and carrying out a complete cycle of processing stone raw materials.’ 

They favoured high-quality jasper or chalcedonite obtained from river pebbles as their tools.

Neanderthals bones

Some 74 Neanderthal fossils have been found at Chagyrskaya since 2007. Picture: Maria Mednikova

A 2016 find was a piece of rock crystal, not typical for the area, so must have been deliberately brought from a distance. 

There were ‘no traces of use’ on the drusen sample. 

‘So we can say that the Neanderthals purposely brought to the cave a very beautiful object and did not exploit it there,’ she said.

'Thanks to the discovery of rock crystal in Chagyrskaya cave, we can say that the cognitive abilities of the Neanderthals were wider than previously thought. 

‘The ancient people liked the beautiful crystal. 

’And in order to get this object to their place, they undertook a chain of actions, found it, separated it from the big druses and brought it to the cave. 

‘Also recently in Europe, scientists began to find evidence of non-utilitarian activities of Neanderthals in the form of geometric engravings or circular lay out of stalactites and stalagmites in caves.' 

Crystal


Crystal

A 2016 find was a piece of rock crystal, not typical for the area, so must have been deliberately brought from a distance. 

Some 74 Neanderthal fossils have been found at Chagyrskaya since 2007 along with an impressive 90,000 stone artefacts. 

Prof Kolobova stressed the way knowledge of the Altai Neanderthals is expanding.

'Previously, archaeologists had a prejudice that Neanderthals did not produce bone tools,’ she said.

‘But in the cave, scientists found about 1,200 items, most of which are made from long tubular bones of bison. 

‘Mainly these were retouchers (bone tools for making other tools). There are also piercings, knives, and scrapers. 

‘This is the largest Middle Palaeolithic collection of bone tools in Northern Asia. 

‘This significantly changes our understanding of the Neanderthal's labour and mental abilities, since such a functional variety of bone products is characteristic of the Upper Palaeolithic, but not the Middle.' 

Chagyrskaya cave GV


Chagyrskaya cave

View on Chagyrskaya cave and Charysh river valley. Picture: Sergey Zelensky

The unanswered question, though, is why this early human branch vanished from the planet.

Dr Kolobova is a professor of archeology at the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography,  Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Her co-authors were:  Richard G. Roberts, Victor P. Chabai, Zenobia Jacobs, Maciej T. Krajcarz, Natalia Rudaya, Alena Shalagina, Bence Viola, Anatoly Derevianko and others. 

The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The study was funded by the RNF-DFG projects (19-48-04107 and UT 41 / 8-1), the National Science Center of Poland (2018/29 / B / ST10 / 00906) and the Australian Research Council.

Comments (1)

Call for DNA investigation!
姚剑申, 巨鹿/中国
30/01/2020 11:55
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