Isotopic research in Altai Mountains

Mongolia and Altai were tightly connected in Upper, and, probably, Middle Paleolithic: crossing these regions people migratated throughout Central Asia and Southern Siberia. These migrations represent human dispersal, stimulated by several causes, including climate change and animal movements. Moving from one region to another, people would take animal bones, mineral and organic raw materials, personal ornaments. Some of such ornaments could travel for long distances as the objects of exchange or marker of social networks. Study of such cases needs Sr isotopic maps for the regions.

The borders are still closed and our plans to take more samples for Sr isotopic map in Mongolia were ruined, but we were able to do such work in Altai Mountains. We collected the samples in 41 localities. Choice of each sampling locality was difficult and based on several conditions. 1) We chose localities at the different kinds of geological formations, because geology directly influences on isotopic composition of water, soil and vegetation. Having the geological map, we faced the problem of discrepancies, because some geological areas were mapped using satellite images. Fortunately, we had two excellent specialists in rock formation. 2) We used to sample a water, grass and soil in each locality, but Altai region is highly used for agriculture. To avoid the contamination by fertilizers, we needed to go deeper and higher in each valley, to the areas without agricultural fields. Sometimes water sources were absent in such areas, and we sampled grass and soil only. 3) Sr isotopic map is supposed to be detailed, so, ideally samples need to be taken every 5 km in one river valley. We didn’t have such ability, because 87Sr/86Sr ratio analysis is expensive. So, on initial stage of our project we chose different areas in Altai Mountains to get the primary understanding on distinction of 87Sr/86Sr ratios in the region.

Sampling localities in Altai Mountains (mapped by Andrey Vishnevsky)

We collected samples in the areas close to the border with Kazakhstan (the districts near Mongolian border were blocked) and areas surrounding archaeological sites: Okladnikov’s, Denisova, Maloyalomanskaya and Ust-Kanskaya caves, Kara-Bom, Ust-Karakol sites and other areas.

Okladnikov’s cave. Geochemist Dr. Irina Vishnevskaya and geologist Dr. Evgeny Mikheev
Ust-Kanskaya cave
Visiting Denisova cave. Thanks to Dr. Maksim Kozlikin for wonderful excursion!
Kara-Bom site

In general, we collected 111 samples from 41 localities. Currently all samples are under analysis in the Common Use Center of the Ural Branch of RAS “Geoanalyst”, Ekaterinburg. We also collected a number of samples of rock formations, when there were the difference in geological map and real geological situation.

Azurite and malachite
trying to dry up the samples
Our camp at the Katun’ River
Best selfie ever :))
Malaya Gromatukha River
Dr. Irina Vishnevskaya is sampling a water


Arina Khatsenovich, initiator of this survey, but mostly tourist

Irina Vishnevskaya, queen of isotopes

Evgeny Mikheev, the guy with big geological hammer

Andrey Vishnevsky, the Head of Geological Museum, senior researcher at the Institute of Geology and Minerology SB RAS and Novosibirsk State University. Our petrographyst, GIS specialist, cook and driver

and Evgeny Rybin , giving his invaluable advise from home


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