Archaeological survey in Altai Mountains

Dr. Arina Khatsenovich near Kara-Tenesh site. Offroad.

Our team visited several Paleolithic sites in Altai Mountains this July. We had coordinates of the sites that have been investigated in 1980-1990th – Maloyalomanskaya cave and Kara-Tenesh. Of course, these coordinates were wrong. Local people were very kind and helped us to find the cave. Site is in the good condition. One of the galleries looks perspective for further excavation. We plan to take samples for OSL and 14C dating next year.

Maloyalomanskaya cave

Situation with Kara-Tenesh is less clear. Coordinates were basically correct and we found the site after 1 or 2 hours search. But the square of this site is huge and we try to understand, where the Paleolithic excvatation pit is situated. This site is the settlement of Afontovo culture, with deeply covered Paleolithic material at some parts of the site. Next year we use to excavate several test pits to detect Paleolithic layer.

Dr. Anton Anoikin at the Kara-Tenesh site

The other goal of our survey was related to search for raw material sources that ancient people, settled at the Kara Bom site, could use. Just one preliminary word – success!!! More – soon.

Dr. Evgeny Rybin testing stone raw material

We found 2 new Paleolithic sites. All of that looks promising and will keep us busy if pandemic continue.

Kara Bom site by DJI Mavic Pro

Tomorrow Dr. Evgeny Rybin will defend a thesis of his Dr. Habil. dissertation

December 21, 06:00 a.m. (Moscow time)

Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography, Siberian Branch of Russian Academy of Science. Event will be available online on YouTube (even after defense) in Russian Сессия диссертационного совета Института археологии и этнографии СО РАН – YouTube

Evgeny Rybin will present his dissertation ” Regional variability of Initial Upper Paleolithic lithic industries in Southern Siberia and eastern Central Asia”

Official reviewers:

Dr. Sergei A. Vasiliev, Institute of the History of material culture RAS, Saint-Petersburg.

Dr. Pavel Yu. Pavlov, Institute of language, literature and history, Ural Branch of RAS, Komi

Dr. Pavel V. Volkov, Novosibirsk State University

Reviewing organization:

Institute of Archaeology RAS, Moscow.


Academician Anatoly P. Derevianko

John Olsen became an Honorary Doctor of Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography SB RAS, Novosibirsk

Regents’ Professor Emeritus of University of Arizona John Olsen works with Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography SB RAS since 1995. Joint Mongolian-Russian-American archaeological expedition celebrates 25 years in 2020. This Expedition investigated Tsagaan Agui and Chikhen Agui caves, Chikhen-2, discovered Tolbor valley with highest concentration of Initial & Early Upper Paleolithic sites and numerous localities with surface material. Currently this Expedition works in Orkhon valley and Gobi desert.

John not only works as the co-director of joint expedition, but he also has long relationships with Novosibirsk scientific center in general. He tought two courses in Novosibirsk State University during the spring semester in 2018: “Principles of Archaeology” (lectures) for graduate and “Reading Archaeology” (seminars) for undergraduate students.


John makes the efforts to establish scientific collaborations between Mongolia, China, Russia and USA. He involves early career researchers to the International projects and expeditions.

Inner Mongolia, 2017

Mongolia, 2019 Tibet, 2018

Our team congratulates John with this totally deserved Honorary degree and say thanks for all his help with the field work, international collaboration, ideas and articles!

Read about event here Ученый совет Института принял решение о присуждении звания «Почетный доктор Института археологии и этнографии Сибирского отделения Российской академии наук» (nsc.ru)

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


Tolbor-21 – the Initial Upper Paleolithic site: new article in Quaternary International

Our new paper

Evgeny P. Rybin, Cleantha N. Paine, Arina M. Khatsenovich, Tsedendorj Bolorbat, Sahra Talamo, Daria V. Marchenko, William Rendu, Alexei M. Klementiev, Davakhuu Odsuren, Byambaa Gunchinsuren, Nicolas Zwyns., 2020. A new Upper Paleolithic occupation at the site of Tolbor-21 (Mongolia): Site formation, human behavior and implications for the regional sequence

appeared online in Quaternary International. Read it here https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1040618220303347

In Central and East Asia, the Upper Paleolithic dates as early as 45 ka cal BP, but until recently, there was little reliable information concerning human occupation during the following period, between 45 and 40 ka cal BP. Here we present results of the excavation of the site of Tolbor-21, in the Selenga drainage system, Northern Mongolia. We focus on Tolbor-21 Archeological Horizon 4 (AH4), an archeological assemblage that documents human occupations that fall stratigraphically and chronologically between the Initial and the Early Upper Paleolithic. We report on the spatial distribution of the finds, the zooarcheological and the lithic data to determine which of the observations reflect post-depositional processes, and which are informative of human behavior. Our initial results presented here show evidence of reworking and preservation bias on a succession of occupations, the exploitation of medium/large herbivores, and a potential structured use of space. At the regional level, our results suggest that improving the resolution of data collection may identify previously undocumented episodes of human occupation. At a broader scale, the Tolbor-21 AH4 assemblage brings new perspectives on the development of the Early Upper Paleolithic in Central and Northeast Asia.


The Russian Scientific Foundation supports ER, AMK, DM and AK for lithic (project #19-18-00198) and faunal (project# 19-78-10112) analyses.

The National Scientific Foundation (#1560784) supports NZ field research in the Ikh-Tulberiin-Gol. NZ is grateful for the support of the Leakey Foundation, the Max Planck Society, the UC-Davis Department of Anthropology and the UC-Davis Academic Senate, and the Hellman Foundation.
S.T. is funded by the European Research Council under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme (grant agreement No. 803147 RESOLUTION, https://site.unibo.it/resolution-erc/en).

Excavations of Tolbor 21
Team of 2015 excavation campaign

Arina Khatsenovich gave a talk for Down Ancient Trails

Down Ancient Trails is the international archaeological forum, organized by Sharma Center for Heritage Education, India and supported by Leakey Foundation. It is the online platform for specialists in archaeological sciences and anthropology to share their research. A number of headliners in archaeology gave the talks about different subjects that they study. Shanti Pappu, the coordinator of this fantastic project, had invited Arina Khatsenovich to give a talk about Paleolithic study in Mongolia on July 15.

Right after survey in Altai, Arina has presented first results of ongoing projects, supported by RSF and Leakey Foundation, in Mongolia.

She focused on the study of Final Middle Paleolithic and Initial Upper Paleolithic in Central Asia, particularly in Mongolia. Excavations, carried out by JMRAAE in 2018-2019 have yield not only new lithic material, but also new chronology, based on OSL (radiocarbon dates are upcoming).

Dr. Evgeny Rybin presented his degree work

As you know Russia keeps 2-step level of academician degree: candidate of science, an equivalent of PhD degree, and doctor of science. The last one is supposed to be the global result of long-term investigation.

Academician A.P. Derevianko, the advisor of Rybin’s dissertation

Evgeny Rybin has preliminary presented his doctoral dissertation “Regional variability of Initial Upper Paleolithic industries in Southern Siberia and eastern part of Central Asia”. Department of Stone Age accepted his work and reccommended for defence. Official defence will be held in December of 2020.

Drs. Anton Anoikin and Arina Khatsenovich at the department meeting
Junior researcher Daria Marchenko at the department meeting

In his dissertation Dr. Rybin has presented results of several completed and ongoing projects, including RSF 19-18-00198 and RSF 19-78-10112

Updates on Mongolian field season 2020

Special comission of the Ministry of education, science, culture and sport decided to cancel forighn expeditions for this season to protect Mongolia from COVID-19. We support this decision completely. We preliminary shift excavation of Tsagan Agui to spring of 2021.

It doesn’t mean that work freezed up. We are working on samples delivery to Russia. Mongolian part of our team will continue to work on sampling for isotopic map of Mongolia. Just yesterday last portion of samples for OSL-dating was delivered to IVPP, China, where Ge Junyi works hard on estimating the age of the Paleolithic sites from Orkhon valley. Lab analysis of other samples is on-going in Novosibirsk.

Soon we will publish new updates, and some of them will be pretty exciting!

#PaleoMongolia #archaeology #JMRAAE #fieldseason2020