The Mesolithic Age, i.e., the ‘Middle Stone Age,’ was a transitionary period of the Stone Age that existed between the Upper Palaeolithic and the Neolithic (Old Stone Age and New Stone Age, respectively), roughly between 13,000 and 3,000 BC. In central Russia, a 10,000-year-old settlement has been discovered near the Velet’ma River and has been excavated by archaeologists from the Institute of Archaeology of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Their work has unearthed a large number of Mesolithic tools and other interesting finds.
These are the early stages of the Butovo culture, Mesolithic hunter‐gatherer communities in the upper Volga catchment area and the forests of the nearby western Russian zone. A point of relevant interest is that the Holocene Glacial Retreat had commenced by around 11,700 BC, and most areas of Eurasia witnessed retreating ice and glacial cover, with extensive megafauna extinction, reports Heritage Daily .
The Butovo culture consisted of Mesolithic hunter‐gatherer communities in the upper Volga catchment area and the forests of the nearby western Russian zone. ( Gorodenkoff /Adobe Stock)
Maloye Okulovo and its Mesolithic Tools
This particular site is located near the village of Maloye Okulovo in the Nizhny Novgorod region, where the length and breadth of the discoveries included settlements from the Mesolithic Age, right through the Bronze Age, till the Early Iron Age, somewhere around the turn of the millennium (the cusp between the 1st century BC and 1st century AD). Along with this site, 4 other sites were extensively studied – Maloye Okulovo -11, Maloye Okulovo -19, Maloye Okulovo – 20 and Malookulovskaya – 3, covering an area of more than 10,000 square meters (107,639 sq. ft).
Another important site, Maloye Okulovo-19, was discovered during explorations in 2020. The finds here date back to the Mesolithic and Early Neolithic period, although there are also finds from later archaeological eras. There is evidence of prehistoric humans from the Stone Age repeatedly visiting this site, as evidenced by large accumulations of stone tools. In fact, a whopping 10,000 artifacts were found on the site, after which a planigraphic analysis of the distribution of the artifacts was conducted.
Malookulovskaya-3. General view of the excavation site from a quadcopter. ( Institute of Archaeology RAS )
Planigraphy is another word for tomography, wherein 3D images of the internal structure of a solid object are created by propagating waves of energy through the object. This helped in the identification of several large zones that stretched from the southwest to the northeast across a sand ridge. Stone production was evidenced through the enormity of cores and debitages found here – blades, flakes, chips and scales. In fact, the Butovo is associated with a rich material culture which includes bone harpoon points, flint knives, tanged points, and scrapers.
There are other items like arrowheads for hunting (made mostly from flint), and simultaneously, an absence of ceramics. “Flint tools find analogies in the forest zone of Eastern Europe from the Baltic to the Urals and speak of the cultural ties of the population of this vast territory in the early Mesolithic”, write the excavating archaeologists in a press release on the Institute of Archaeology RAS . Other Mesolithic tools and weapons include flint scrapers, punctures, and fragments of an axe.
Archaeologists found numerous Mesolithic tools and weapons . ( Institute of Archaeology RAS )
A lot of Mesolithic cultures around the world show a slow transition to pottery and ceramic making, which became a specialized job or task, but at the Maloye Okulovo sites archaeologists speculate that this only happened later.
The Mesolithic Period
The Mesolithic was the period of the last hunter-gatherer societies and cultures in Europe and Western Asia, between the last Glacial Maxim and the Neolithic Revolution, where the period of global warming had caused ice to recede and conditions became ideal for settled farming and the domestication of crops and animals. The Mesolithic is also associated with the development of smaller and more sophisticated tools and weapons, in place of the clunky, rudimentary and crude tools of the Palaeolithic.
It is also generally associated with a transition to pottery and ceramic ware, and textile making, particularly because permanent settlements allowed for more time and energy to be devoted to tasks other than hunting or gathering. Society was still very basic, and did not reach the rapid levels of complexity of the Neolithic period, as evidenced by the art (there are far fewer examples of it from the Mesolithic period), along with the simple burials.
Ceramics from the Volosov culture found at Malookulovskaya-3. ( Institute of Archaeology RAS )
The finds at the site near the village of Maloye Okulovo are not just exciting from a discovery point of view, but they also allow archaeologists and researchers to highlight and determine the layers of settlement created over the span of a few thousand years at just one site. This allows for the reconstruction of socio-cultural and economic activities from different time periods, along with a sensitive and empathetic understanding of changing environments (particularly since most modern changes are associated with humans).
The RAS has uploaded a video on their Youtube channel, for those familiar with the Russian language, on the entire archaeological process.
Top image: The excavation site and Mesolithic tools. Source: Institute of Archaeology RAS
By Sahir Pandey