Asian Archaeology

, Volume 2, Issue 2, pp 59–63 | Cite as

The upper Paleolithic multi-hearth dwelling at the Kosaya Shivera-2 settlement in the Transbaikal region, Russia

  • Alexander KonstantinovEmail author
  • Yegor Filatov
Original Paper


During archaeological excavations conducted in the Krasnii Chikoi region (Transbaikalye), a multi-hearth dwelling was uncovered at the Kosaya Shivera settlement site. The site is associated with depositions of the first terrace above the flood plain of the Menza River. The dwelling refers to cultural horizon 4, which is a thin, 3 cm thick limous layer at a depth of 1.3 m. The cultural layer yielded a construction consisting of 4 hearths with an outer lining of rocks and associated artifacts. The hearths are located along the long axis 0.5–1 m apart. The space around them is enclosed by an outer lining of 82 rocks. The lining has an oval shape (partially exposed, measuring 6.5 х 9.5 m). All artifacts are associated with the hearths. No artifacts were uncovered beyond the outer rock lining. The 767 artifacts comprise micro-cores, tools, and microblades, with fragments, flakes and fine bone fragments. The stratigraphic position of the dwelling and radiocarbon data place the dwelling back to the end of the Upper Paleolithic period.


В процессе изучения находится палеолитическое многоочажное жилище, выявленное на поселении Косая Шивера 2 (Забайкальский край, Красночикойский район). Поселение связано с отложениями 1-й надпойменной террасы р. Менза. Жилище относится к 4 культурному горизонту, который представляет собой тонкую иловатую прослойку мощностью 3 см, залегающую на глубине 1,3 м. Здесь выявлена конструкция, состоящая из 4 очагов с тяготеющими к ним артефактами и камней внешней обкладки. Очаги расположены по длинной оси на расстоянии 0,5–1 м друг от друга. Пространство во круг них оконтуривает внешняя обкладка, в которой использовано 82 камня. Обкладка имеет овальную форму (видимые размеры 6,5 х 9,5 м). Все находки тяготеют к очагам, за пределами внешней обкладки находок не обнаружено. Среди 767 находок имеются микронуклеусы, орудия, микропластинки их фрагменты, чешуйки, отщепы, мельчайшие раздробленные косточки. Положение в стратиграфическом разрезе поселения и полученные радиоуглеродные даты позволяют датировать жилище концом верхнего палеолита.


Transbaikalye Menza River Multi-layer settlement Kosaya Shivera-2 Multi-layer Paleolithic dwelling 

Ключевые слова

Забайкальский край, река Менза, многослойное поселение Косая Шивера 2, многоочажное палеолитическое жилище.

Dwellings are considered one of the achievements of “Upper Paleolithic civilization” and represent a special interest in research. A dozen Upper Paleolithic settlements with identified dwellings are known archaeologically to be located in South Siberia. They stretch along the northern borders of Mongolia and China. Due to a number of reasons, the most famous of these are the Paleolithic dwellings such as Malta and Buryet near Lake Baikal investigated by M.M. Gerasimov and A.P. Okladnikov (Gerasimov 1931; 1958; 1961; Okladnikov 1940). These are widely described in academic, popular scientific, and educational literature, but many questions still remain unanswered despite their thorough investigations.

A significant number of dwellings were identified in Transbaikalia at settlements such as Sanniy Mis, Varvarina Gora, Kamenka, Sukhotino-4, Amagolon, Studenoye 1, 2, Ust-Menza 1–4, and Kosaya Shivera 1, 2. Of special interest are those dwellings which were identified within multilayer alluvial settlements with the dwellings overlying one another and interstratified by sterile layers (Konstantinov et al. 1993; Konstantinov 1994; Konstantinov and Константинов 2001). It is worth noting that a significant number of Paleolithic locations (including settlements) have been uncovered within the territories of China and Mongolia, but we are unaware of the existence of such settlement structures as dwellings. For this reason, we consider that knowledge about Paleolithic dwellings in Transbaikalian settlements will prove to be useful.

Led by one author of the current paper, one of the teams of the Chikoi archaeological expedition of Transbaikal State University carried out research on a multi-hearth Paleolithic dwelling identified in the 4th cultural horizon of the Kosaya Shivera-2 multilayer settlement. The settlement is located in Shirokaya Deep on the right bank of the Menza River, 18 km upstream from its estuary (Krasniy Chikoi district, Transbaikal region). The dwelling is associated with the I terrace above the 6 m above the flood plain.

The foundation for the research was laid in 1992. A 2 X 4 m test pit was dug in the area of the settlement (Fig. 1). The 4th cultural horizon, at a depth of 1.3 m, yielded a structure comprising a hearth, associated lithic artifacts (132 items), as well as an arched row of 11 river pebbles and small boulders that extended into the walls of the pit. No excavations were conducted below that level and the structure was preserved. At that time, an assumption was made based on the experience gained at the Studenoye and Ust-Menza archaeological complexes that the structure was part of a single-hearth dwelling (Konstantinov and Константинов 2001: 25). It is worth noting that an analogous dwelling with a diameter of 4.5 m was also identified in the 14th cultural horizon of a neighboring Kosaya Shivera-1 settlement. The expressive set of remains of that structure set the standard for further identification of dwellings of this kind.
Fig. 1

Part of the multi-hearth, Upper Paleolithic dwelling identified in the 4th cultural horizon of the Kosaya Shivera-2, during the 1992 excavations

A very important point in the study of dwellings is their stratigraphy. The section facing the river yielded the following stratigraphy for the dwelling:
  • Layer 1. Black earth with brown clay loam streaks from the underlying layer. Lower border is very distinct, top soil (0.1–0.2 m depth).

  • Layer 2. Brown sandy loam deposits along with black patchy humic interlayers (at least five of them). Interlayer 1 (1.5–2 cm thick) is 2–5 cm lower than the base of Layer 1.

  • Interlayer 2. Black, thick spots (up to 10 cm); at other places, grey with indistinct rims, 4–6 cm thick.

  • Interlayer 3. Grey, hardly visible, 3 cm thick. Located 4–5 cm lower than Interlayer 2.

  • Interlayer 4.Squares: black, 6–7 cm thick; at other squares, grey.

  • Interlayer 5. Thin (1–2 cm), located 2–3 cm lower than Interlayer 4. Layer base is a distinct sandy interlayer 3–4 cm thick. The thickness of the layer is 0.5 m.

  • Layer 3. Light brown sandy loam with a series of sandy interlayers 2–4 cm thick and a series of black, thin, humic 1–2 cm thick interlayers. Such interlayers are 8 in number. The thickness of the layer is 0.3 m.

  • Layer 4. Homogenous grey-brown sandy loam. Layer thickness is 0.15 m.

  • Layer 5. Alternation of sand (up to 10 cm) and thin silty interlayers (3–4 cm). They are 2 in number, the lower one is associated with a structure of the 4th cultural horizon.

From the superface of Layer 2 to the superface of Layer 3 runs a frost cleft (desiccation crack). Two ice wedges run down from the superface of Layer 5.

Sedimentation genesis:
  • Layer 5. Alluvial, belonging to the Allerød (Taimir period; 11.8–10.8 ka).

  • Layer 4. Alluvial, was subject to change due to external factors; Norilsk (10.8–10.3 ka).

  • Layers 3 and 2. Complex genesis (polygenetic);

Lower sandy interlayer: Boreal period (10.3–8 ka).

Remainder: Atlantic Optimum (8–4 ka).
  • Layer 1. Top soil; Sub-Boreal – Sub-Atlantic (4–2.3 ka).

It is necessary to repeat that the dwelling was associated with a fine silty interlayer, 3 cm thick, with an overlying sterile sandy layer. Cryogenic deformations of the cultural horizon are minimal, and the dwelling complex is located “in situ”. The research had been initially viewed as promising and worthwhile, but the investigation began only in 2015. A wider 5 × 6 m pit was excavated at the place of an earlier trench. The continued excavations proved the assumption that the dwelling extended farther. The outer line of rocks did not take on the final round shape of a single-hearth dwelling, but continued even farther, with the excavations yielding another two hearths (Fig. 2). Hearth No. 3 was partially uncovered, as it protruded from the southeastern wall of the pit, along with associated lithic artifacts. Separate rocks of the outer lining also extended to the northeastern and southwestern wall. The total number of reached 622 items.
Fig. 2

Continuing excavations of the multi-hearth dwelling at Kosaya Shivera-2 in 2015

The research continued in 2016. An additional area was excavated around the pit in order to study the dwelling in its complete form. From its southeastern side, the pit was extended by 3 m along the hearth axis, from the southwestern and northwestern sides it was extended by 0.5 m, and from northeastern side it was extended by 1 m. The total excavation area reached 58.5 m2. Hearth No. 3 was cleared completely, as well as hearth No. 4 with its associated artifacts. New rocks were identified in the outer lining which continued farther into the wall (Fig. 3). The whole structure, 9.5 m in length with 4 hearths, this time still continued into the southeastern wall of the pit (Mukhamedyanov 2016; Konstantinov and Filatov 2016).
Fig. 3

View the northwest of the multi-hearth dwelling at Kosaya Shivera-2, in 2016

Below we will review the main elements of the structure, but first we will discuss the hearth and line of rocks that outlines the structure. Four hearths were located along the long axis of the dwelling (parallel to the river) with a distance of 0.5–1 m between them. Hearth No. 1 is 0.9 m in diameter. It was lined with seven river pebbles and small boulders ranging 18 X 30 to 24 X 34 cm in size: the rocks formed an an arc that opened to the east. One of the rocks has a flat surface and could possibly have been used as an anvil. The hearth was filled with black charcoal and a sooty substance, 1–3 cm thick. Hearth No. 2 had a distinct oval shape with a diameter up to 1.1 m. It was lined by six rocks lying on their broader surface. Three of them sit close against each other. The hearth was filled with black charcoal and a sooty substance, 1–3 cm thick. Hearth No. 3 (1.2 m) had a round lining of five rocks lying on their broader surfaces. Hearth No. 4 had a roundish shape (0.97 m). The lining included eight close-sitting rocks. The hearth was filled with a black charcoal and sooty substance, 1–3 cm thick. The space between the hearths and the one-meter area around them was covered by a fine charcoal and sooty film that formed into a single area. In some cases, the hearths included near-hearth rocks and associated artifacts (Fig. 4). The outer lining, comprised of 82 rocks, had an oval shape, with the exposed area measuring 6.5 X 9.5 m. The rocks are located from 1.3 to 2.9 m away from the hearths. These were the largest of the river pebbles and boulders excavated, with the sizes ranging from 6 X 14 to 30 X 58 cm. The distribution of the rocks in the lining is uneven, with each side consisting of a different number of rocks and each having a different rock spacing density. The southwestern side of the lining (facing the Menza River) included 30 rocks ranging 6 X 14 to 25 X 56 cm in size. The rocks were placed separately, or in pairs, or in groups of 3 to 11 rocks. Two rocks still went into the trench wall indicating the continuation of the lining. The distance between the rocks is 0.5–0.7 m. To the west, the lining takes a round shape. From the western side the lining consists of two rows of 10 close-sitting rocks (0.84 X 1.84 m). It includes larger rocks with sizes from 14 X 20 to 30 X 58 cm. From the northern side, 44 rocks (20 X 20 to 24 X 54 cm) form a 9 m long by 1 m wide lining. The rocks sit close to each other and form from one to three rows (Fig. 5).
Fig. 4

The southeastern part of the Upper Paleolithic dwelling at Kosaya Shivera-2 showing hearths Nos. 3 and 4, in 2016

Fig. 5

Plan drawing of the exposed features and artifacts of the Upper Paleolithic dwelling at Kosaya Shivera-2 in 2016. Numbered shaded outlines are rocks in the lining of the dwelling and numbered clear outlines are rocks comprising the hearths or associated with them. X: microblades and microblade fragments; l: flakes; H: cores

All of the 767 identified lithics were uncovered within the dwelling demarcated by the lining of rocks. The lithics comprise 13 microcores and their fragments, 14 tools, a microblade with notched retouch, a microblade with rare retouch, 410 small flakes, 183 flakes, 77 microblades, 66 microblade fragments, and 2 blade fragments. Apart from the above, several dozens of poorly preserved bone fragments were identified.

Although the structure of the dwelling has not been uncovered completely (it continues in the southeastern direction), it still gives the impression of a whole one and is, so to say, “predictable”. Without a doubt, we have the distinct remains of a four-hearth dwelling. We presume that behind hearth No. 4 at a distance of about 1.5 m the outer lining will join. But for the time being no rounding of the lining in that direction is yet to be observed. It is most likely that there is also a fifth hearth and that dimensions of the dwelling will be 6.5 X 12 m.

The age of the dwelling is defined based on the character of the cultural horizon configuration in the stratigraphic profile of the settlement and from radiocarbon dating. It is necessary to note that the fourth cultural horizon is associated with the superface of the fifth lithological layer (alluvium of the 1st terrace above the flood plain), which dates back to the Taimir period (Allerød), between 11.8–10.8 ka BP. A charcoal sample from hearth No 2, dated in Seattle WA (Radiocarbon Dating Services yielded a date of 13,551 ± 43 uncal BP (D-АМS 011900). A sample analyzed in Geographical Research Institute, St. Petersburg State University)gave a date of 13,010 ± 430 uncal BP (ЛУ-8137). In the second case, the amount of carbon in the sample is low, and the calibrated date ranges 15,520 ± 690 cal BP. During further research, the age of the cultural horizon should be further refined by studying the underlying terrace sediments (results of its complete profile) and by obtaining additional radiocarbon dates (additional charcoal samples taken from all hearths are being analyzed in different laboratories).

Thus, the excavations conducted in 1992, 2015, and 2016 resulted in the uncovering and the ongoing study of a multi-hearth Upper Paleolithic dwelling. The discovered structure was never removed, and all of the rocks of the hearths and outer lining are in their original places, in situ. This fact makes future work easier as well as better allowing the perception of the structure. During the research process, lengthwise and cross-section profiles were done, as well as a hearth profile. No pits were identified within the dwelling surface and the excavation pit itself. The dwelling occupies an even surface which has a slight slant going down in the direction of the river. So far, the dwelling is the only identified structure of the 4th cultural horizon. Its visible dimensions fit the area of the excavation pit, and no artifacts were identified beyond its outer lining. Excavation history at other Transbaikalian sites shows that when one structure is found, extending the excavation area typically can yield additional structures, some of which may be located at a distance of several meters from the original dwelling.

Multi-hearth dwellings of the kind described above have been discovered previously in the territory of Transbaikal region. For instance, the 6th horizon of the Sukhotino-4 settlement yielded a five-hearth dwelling (Kirillov and Derev’anko 1998; Cherenschikov 1998; Filatov 2016). The 4th and 5th cultural horizon at the Studenoye-2 settlement yielded a distinct six-hearth 5 X 18 m dwelling (Konstantinov and Константинов 2001; Razgildeyeva 2003). We assume that the dwelling from Kosaya Shivera-2 might have common parameters. As far as other Siberian dwellings are concerned, a large dwelling, No. 9, was excavated by M. M. Gerasimov at the Malta settlement in 1956 (Gerasimov 1958). Although a lack of reported data concerning dwelling No. 9 at Malta has cast doubts on its very existence, its reported dimensions of 5–6 X 14 m are similar to the multi-hearth dwelling of the 4th and 5th cultural horizons at the Studenoye-2 settlement and the dwelling at Kosaya Shivera-2.

In conclusion, it is worth mentioning some words about the reconstruction of the dwelling. We assume that single-hearth dwellings with a round bottom could only take the shape of a chum (teepee-like structure). In the case here, however, the only applicable shape of dwelling would be a hut-like one. The length of the required ridge capping or several connecting poles is substantial. The studied dwelling presents an expressive example of Upper Paleolithic house building. The results of its research could be useful for the analysis of previously obtained scientific materials and for the investigation of newly uncovered dwellings as well, including those identified in the adjacent Mongolian and Chinese territories.


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Copyright information

© Research Center for Chinese Frontier Archaeology (RCCFA), Jilin University and Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of HistoryTransbaikal State UniversityChitaRussia
  2. 2.Krasnoyarsk GeoarchaeologyKrasnoyarskRussia

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