People of the Mesolithic


<p"msobodytextindent" />A double burial of a man aged 40-50 and a young woman was discovered by S.N. Bibikov and E.V. Zhirov in 1936 during the excavations of a Mesolithic horizons in Murzak-Koba – a grotto situated in the mountains of southern Crimea. The two skeletons lay close to each other, the man’s right arm being placed under the bones of the female skeleton, and stones were heaped over both. The woman’ little fingers had been partly amputated during her lifetime, probably evidencing an initiation rite. Ritual mutilations were practiced by many peoples of the world. The custom of amputating fingers existed among Africans, Australian aborigines, and American Indians. It was practiced by Stone Age Europeans as well, as demonstrated not merely by hands of the Murzak-Koba woman, but also by the fact that hands imprinted on a cave wall in the French Pyrenees, too, lack finger phalanges.

<p"msobodytextindent" />Materials from Murzak-Koba include flint tools (burins, scrapes, blades, and microliths – tiny implements of geometric shapes), those made of bone, horn, and teeth of animals (awls, borers, harpoon and spear heads) as well as bones of ungulates (red deer, roes, boars, etc.) and fishes.

<p"msobodytextindent" />Compared to the preceding Upper Paleolithic epoch, the Mesolithic was marked by a warmer and more humid climate – the Pleistocene had given way to the Holocene. The glacier retreated, and the environment changed. Snails of the Helix genus, apparently an important food item of the Mesolithic people, became widely distributed. Huge amounts of their shells were discovered at Murzak-Koba. The abundance of fish bones and the harpoon head evidence an important role of fish in the diet. Judging by a relatively small number of mammal bones, hunting became less important than in the previous epoch.

<p"msonormal" />The Murzak-Koba skeletons were studied by E.V. Zhirov. The appearance of the male was reconstructed by M.M. Gerasimov. The individual was tall – about 180 cm. His skull, in Gerasimov’s words, “is large and robust. The muscular relief is well developed. A large medium-wide forehead is accentuated by a heavy browridge, which does not in the least render the face primitive, but enhances its vigor. A large facial breadth appears less conspicuous due to a prominent nose, which is narrow and high, and has an elegant outline. Characteristically shaped upper eyelids overhang the outer corners of deep-set eyes. Cheekbones are robust and roughly shaped. The lower jaw is very large and robust. The poise is straight and proud. The neck and the shoulders are strong.”



Location of Murzak-Koba grotto,

  Man from Murzak-Koba. Sculptural
reconstruction by M.M. Gerasimov.
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  Woman from Murzak-Koba. Sculptural
reconstruction by M.M. Gerasimov.
Artifacts from Murzak-Koba       <p"msobodytextindent2""left" />




<p"msonormal""center" />

<p"msonormal" />Yuzhny Oleniy (Southern Reindeer) Island is situated in the northeastern part of LakeOnega. On the island, there is a huge burial ground. The excavators dated it to the late Neolithic. M.M. Gerasimov disagreed. He claimed that the site was much older and dated back to the early Neolithic or even Mesolithic. Modern (science-based) dating methods have upheld his view: the cemetery actually is of a Mesolithic age (7th – 6th millennia BC).

<p"msonormal" />Judging by its size, the burial ground was a tribal cemetery where the dead were transported from a vast territory adjoining LakeOnega. Fifty kilometers away from the island, there is a huge rock art gallery evidencing prehistoric people’s ideas of world and man.

<p"msonormal" />In 1936-38, nearly 180 burials were excavated V.I. Ravdonikas, and an enormously rich material was collected. Especially unusual are vertical burials in deep well-like pits. One such burial was that of a tribal chief. It contained numerous burial goods – a bone dagger with flint inserts, decorated with incised patterns, a quiver with arrows, chert knives, harpoons, numerous pendants from elk teeth, etc. The cranium, unfortunately, had not been preserved.

<p"msonormal" />Flint tools are mostly projectile points, arrowheads, and knife-like blades. Some tools were composite: flint inserts were put into handles made of reindeer antlers. Polished knives, chisels, and axes made of chert were also found. Bone and horn processing technique had attained an especially high level in the Mesolithic. These materials were used for manufacturing projectile points, arrowheads, daggers, borers, awls, polishers, etc. Arrows were placed in graves in large numbers (20-30), apparently in quivers, which had not been preserved. Incisors of beavers were used as ornaments, and so were teeth of carnivores. Other finds include horn figurines of humans, animals, and fishes. People who buried their dead on OleniyIsland were hunters and fishers.

<p"msonormal" />Skeletons from YuzhnyOleniyIsland were studied by many anthropologies (the most detailed examination was undertaken by V.P. Yakimov). Stature was rather high for that time –about 173 cm in males. While most people were Caucasoids, some display Mongoloid characteristics – flat faces and rather flat noses.

<p"msonormal" />M.M. Gerasimov reconstructed the appearance of several people buried on OleniyIsland. In his opinion, their physical type resulted from the admixture between Cro-Magnon-like Europeans and Mongoloids who had migrated to northeastern Europe from Siberia. Those people may have been remote ancestors of modern Saami (Lapps).




Location of burial ground on
YuzhnyOleniyIsland, LakeOnega.

  A Caucasoid-looking man from
Yuzhny Oleniy Island. Sculptural
reconstruction by M.M. Gerasimov.
  Man with a “Mongoloid” appearance
from Yuzhny Oleniy Island. Sculptural
reconstruction by M.M. Gerasimov.
Artifacts from YuzhnyOleniyIsland<p"msonormal" />  

Excavations of a grave on

  <p"msobodytextindent2""left" />Human remains with ornaments
made of beaver cutting teeth

Mikhail Gerasimov’s Career
Mikhail Gerasimov as an Archaeologist
Reconstruction of the Face from the Cranium
“Sinanthropus” (Member of the Species Homo Erectus)
Homo Neanderthalensis (Neanderthal man)
Neanderthal Child from Teshik-Tash
People of the Upper Paleolithic
People of the Mesolithic
People of the Early Iron Age
Drawings by M.M. Gerasimov