Sunghir: Why this Paleolithic Burial Site that could be 35 thousand years old is so important
The Sunghir site is the oldest settlement of people in the Vladimir region in Russia. This is not only a monument protected by UNESCO but also a unique archaeological site that attracts the attention of researchers from all over the world. The rich and diverse archaeological material discovered in Sunghir contains unique data about our ancestors who lived here more than 30 thousand years ago. What secrets does the Upper Paleolithic site of Sunghir continue to keep?
The Upper Palaeolithic site of Sunghir was discovered by chance during the construction of a brick factory in 1955, on the outskirts of Vladimir city. At first, the site was not of any special interest, but after almost ten years, six skeletons, one skull, and two poorly preserved femurs were found here.
The first skeleton found belonged to a man about 50 years old. Nearby the skeletons of two children 10-14 years old, lying head to head, were excavated. There was a huge amount of jewelry and decorations, more than 75 thousand pieces, on the costumes of buried people.
After numerous analyses, it was established that the adult man and the youngest of the children ate well: they had a lot of meat in their diet, and they were not subjected to long periods of hunger. However, the diet of the eldest child was merely vegetarian - it was mainly composed of fish and plant foods.
How, then, could children living at the same time eat so differently? There is a hypothesis that the eldest of the adolescents belonged to a special social group, whose representatives had stern restrictions on the type of food consumed. The contrast between burials found at the site also suggests that there was some kind of differentiation between individuals during their lifetimes.
Were the children close relatives? They were buried at the same time and were previously considered close relatives since they have the same rare mutation in mitochondrial DNA. However, according to the results of a more accurate analysis, it turned out that all Sunghir people found were not close relatives to each other, although both children actually belonged to the same maternal line of DNA.
Thousands of beads and other jewelry from ivory were found in the burial site of children, and several hundred in the grave of a man. Pendants made of polar fox fangs also served as decorations. In addition to jewelry, there were other objects, for example, darts and spears from mammoth tusks.
According to local studies, Sunghir was not permanently populated. It was a site where people stopped for some time in a year. A large number of deer bones and horn products were found here as well: in all likelihood, hunters for large animals, mainly reindeer, periodically came here.
The cultural affiliation of Sunghir’s findings is difficult to determine. They were influenced by different cultures, for example, Aurignacian, as well as the ancient Upper Paleolithic cultures of the Russian Plain and the early stages of the Gravittian cultures of Moravia. The collection of items has its own characteristics. For example, the anthropomorphic figures of “Paleolithic Venus” were not found here, but there were images of a horse or saiga, bison and mammoth.
Some of the stone artifacts were generally made using Neanderthal technology. Where did the Neanderthal technology for manufacturing stone products come from to Sunghir?
This remains a mystery.
The age of the site is still not exactly known, although it has been determined many times by the radiocarbon method from human bones and large fauna. According to various estimates, the burial was made from 25 to 35 thousand years ago. Comparison of archaeological materials and the results of radiocarbon dating allow us to narrow the lifetime of the site to 30 - 35 thousand years ago.
Excavations of the ancient settlement continue to this day. Thanks to modern computer modeling technologies, it was possible to recreate the appearance of these ancient people - tall, 176-177 cm, muscular men and women. The appearance of the Sunghirs, as well as many facts in their history, did not fit into the framework of modern scientific theories and concepts. However, facts are stubborn things. Is this not a reason to reconsider our views on ancient history?
“We all belong to an ancient identity. Stories are the rivers that take us there.” Frank Delaney
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