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Paleolithic sites and geomorphology of Karatau mountain range

Date of Submission: 24/09/1998
Category: Mixed
Submitted by:
Institute of Archaeology, Ministry of Science - Academy of Sciences
Coordinates: Karatau mouatain range, S. Kazakhstan region, 43° 50' N 67°50'-70° E
Ref.: 1136
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The Karatau mountain range, situated north of the middle course of the Syrdaria river, is a tectonic uplift to 1500 m. that happened 1.5-1 million years ago. It shows today, on its top, fragments of former plains, on the slopes, evident layers of the phases of formation; on its feet fossil terraces and the world-wide unique phenomenon of griffons, resurgences of underground waters sedimenting carbonates. For these reasons, the area is an important polygon of geological studies.

Besides its geological importance, the Karatau mountains assume an ever greater paleonthological importance for the presence of exclusive and extremely well preserved fossils belonging to the early pleistocenic fauna (Koskurganskaya fauna: equus mostbahensis, elasmarii sibiricum, strutio species, etc.), and for its Paleolithic sites where stone tools assemblages have been found that represent the all process of development of stone-ages cultures from the early stages of the Early Paleolithic (1 million BP) to the Neolithic period (6500 BP).

So, the area represents a complex system showing how a mountain range itself, its fauna and its early human inhabitants rose and developed synchronically for one million years, with a variety and a mutual integration of geological, zoological and Paleolithic remains not found elsewhere.

Up to the present around 300 Paleolithic sites have been found, and only 20% of them excavated. They are scattered all over the range, on its northern and southern slopes, and at different altitudes. The Early Paleolithic sites are situated in the mountains (1300-1100 m), where stone tools can be found, in grey silex (Aristandi culture, 1.000.000-500.000 BP), and in black silex (Bory--Kasgan and Tom-Kasgan cultures, 500.000-100.000 BP). The Middle Paleolithic sites are mostly situated in the griffons of the foot hills (500 m), where stone tools of Moustarian culture can be found, as well in silex, as well in sandstone, showing the immigration in the area of new populations from northern regions. The griffons constitute an exceptional source of findings, in spite of the fact that only 5 out of 40 that exist have been excavated. The Late Paleolithic sites (Valikanov-Karasu settled cultures, 30-15000 BP) are situated on the terraces (800-500 m), and so the Mesolithic ones, represented by a big number of settlements. A hiatus (9000- 6500 BP) shows that a worsening of climate depopulated the area; and Neolithic cultures developed again around the wells of the area only around 6500 BP.

The Paleolithic complex of Karatau is of outstanding universal value for the reconstruction of the genesis and evolution of Paleolithic Eurasian cultures together with their geological and climatic environment. It supports the theory of Central Asia as a primordial homeland of the modern man (per-Asiatic type); testifies an interchange of local and northern cultures during the last interglacial, and, when correlated with paleoclimatic reconstructions, the extreme sensibility of Paleolithic communities to climatic changes.