The Initial Upper Paleolithic Tolbor-21 site: a 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

has appeared online in Quaternary International. Access it here

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 Tolbor-21 site, in the Selenga drainage system, northern Mongolia. We focus on Tolbor-21 Archeological Horizon 4 (AH4), a cultural 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 finds, zooarchaeological and lithic data to determine which reflect post-depositional processes, and which are informative of human behavior. Our initial results presented here show evidence of reworking and preservation bias in a succession of occupations, the exploitation of medium and large herbivores, and the 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. On a broader scale, the Tolbor-21 AH4 assemblage brings new perspectives to the development of the Early Upper Paleolithic in Central and Northeast Asia.


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

The US National Science Foundation (#1560784) supports NZ’s 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 Academic Senate, and the Hellman Foundation.
ST is funded by the European Research Council under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme (grant agreement No. 803147 RESOLUTION,

Excavations at the Tolbor-21 site
Members of the 2015 excavation team

Archaeological survey in the Russian Altai Mountains

Dr. Arina Khatsenovich and colleagues off-road near the Kara-Tenesh site.

Our team visited several Paleolithic sites in the Altai Mountains of southern Siberia in July 2020. We had geographical coordinates of sites investigated in the 1980s-1990s, including Maloyalomanskaya Cave and Kara-Tenesh, but, of course, those coordinates proved to be incorrect! Local people were very kind and helped us to find Maloyalomanskaya Cave, which is in good condition. One gallery in particular seems to have good prospective for further excavation. We plan to take samples for OSL and 14C dating next year.

Maloyalomanskaya Cave

The situation at Kara-Tenesh is less clear. The site’s geographical coordinates were basically correct and we located the site after only one or two hours’ search. But the area of this site is huge and we tried with difficulty to understand where the Paleolithic excavation pit was situated. This site is an Afontovo Culture settlement, with deeply stratified Paleolithic material in some parts of the site. Next year, we will excavate several test pits to detect the Paleolithic layer.

Dr. Anton Anoikin at the Kara-Tenesh site

The other goal of our survey was the search for lithic raw material sources utilized by the ancient inhabitants of the Kara Bom site. Just one preliminary word – success!!! More to follow…soon.

Dr. Evgeny Rybin testing stone raw material

We also found two new Paleolithic localities. All of this looks promising and will undoubtedly keep us busy if the pandemic continues.

The Kara Bom site as seen by DJI Mavic Pro drone

Arina Khatsenovich presents talk for “Down Ancient Trails”

Down Ancient Trails is an international archaeological forum organized by the Sharma Center for Heritage Education, India and supported by the Leakey Foundation. It is an online platform for specialists in archaeological sciences and anthropology to share their research. A number of headliners in archaeology gave presented talks about various subjects that they study. Shanti Pappu, the coordinator of this fantastic project, invited Arina Khatsenovich to present a talk about Paleolithic studies in Mongolia on 15 July 2020.

Immediately following a survey in the Altai Mountains, Arina presented the first results of ongoing projects in Mongolia supported by the Russian Science Foundation and the Leakey Foundation.

Arina focused on the study of Final Middle Paleolithic and Initial Upper Paleolithic assemblages in Central Asia, particularly Mongolia. Excavations carried out by JMRAAE in 2018-2019 have yielded not only new lithic material, but also new a chronology based on Optically Stimulated Luminescence (radiocarbon dates are forthcoming).

Dr. Evgeny Rybin presented his Doctor Habilitatus work

As you may know, Russia follows the two-level configuration of post-Master’s higher academic degrees: Candidate of Science (generally regarded as equivalent to the Ph.D. degree offered in most countries) and Doctor of Science, the latter of which is meant to reflect the comprehensive results of long-term investigation.

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

Evgeny Rybin has made a preliminary presentation of his doctoral dissertation “Regional variability of Initial Upper Paleolithic industries in southern Siberia and eastern Central Asia.” The Institute’s Stone Age Department accepted his work and recommended Rybin be allowed to move forward to the final defense, to be held in December 2020.

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

In his dissertation, Dr. Rybin has presented results of several completed and ongoing research projects, including those supported by grants from the Russian Science Foundation (19-18-00198 and 19-78-10112).

Updates on Mongolian 2020 field season

A special commission of the Mongolian Ministry of Education, Science, Culture and Sport decided to cancel foreign expeditions in 2020 to help protect Mongolia from the Covid-19 pandemic. Naturally, we support this decision completely and have tentatively shifted our planned excavation of Tsagaan Agui Cave to spring, 2021.

This doesn’t mean that all our work has been put on hiatus. We are working on Mongolian samples delivered to Russia. The Mongolian members of our team will continue to work on sampling to develop an isotopic map of Mongolia. Just yesterday, the final portion of samples collected for OSL-dating was delivered to the IVPP in Beijing where our colleague, Ge Junyi has been working hard on determining the age of Paleolithic sites in the Orkhon Valley. Laboratory analyses of other samples is on-going in Novosibirsk.

Soon we will publish new updates, some of which promise to be pretty exciting!

#PaleoMongolia #archaeology #JMRAAE #fieldseason2020