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Avdeevo - Tools from the stone age

The following text is adapted from the excellent monograph, highly recommended, by Mariana Gvozdover, 'Art of the Mammoth Hunters: The Finds from Avdeevo' Oxbow Monograph 49, 1995

Avdeevo is located on the Sejm River near the city of Kursk. Research at the site was conducted from 1946-1949 (old complex - old Avdeevo) by Voevodskij and Rogachev, and from 1972 on (new complex - new Avdeevo) by Gvozdover and Grigor'ev.

Two oval living areas surrounded by semisubterranean lodges and pits have been identified at Avdeevo. Both were occupied between 21 000 and 20 000 BP

The sites are identical in their artefacts and similar to Kostenki 1, layer 1. They may also be connected with Kostenki XIII and XVII and with Berdyzh, located on the Sozh River.

The tool inventory consists of Kostenki knives, shouldered points, and leaf points on blades. There is a well preserved series of worked bone objects which differ in details from those found at Central European sites assigned to the Kostenki-Willendorf cultural unity. They include numerous bone awls and points of various types, burnishers and shovels, diadems and bracelets, as well as beads and decorated points. Non-repetitive or unique objects are relatively rare.

The Kostenki-Avdeevo figurines are quite variable. Most of the figurines depict mature women in various stages of the reproductive cycle: non-pregnant as well as women in the various stages of pregnancy. The beginning and final stages of the reproductive cycle are represented in singular figurines: in the crouching 'presentation' pose at Avdeevo (figurine N14) as well as in the post-partum pose at Kostenki XIII.

The Avdeevo inventory also contains a series of utilitarian objects fashioned with anthropomorphic or zoomorphic 'heads', shaped metapodia and phalanges, as well as subtriangular pieces. All of these, to various degrees, are associated with the schematic and realistic depiction of animals and females.

General characteristics of the site

The Avdeevo Paleolithic site is located in the western part of the Middle-Russian Hills, 40 km from Kursk city, on the right bank of the river Sejm, where it meets its tributary the Rogozna. It is situated on the first terrace of the flood-lands. The cultural layer lies 1.0-1.5 m beneath the current surface.

The site was discovered in 1941. In 1946-1948 it was investigated by M. V. Voevodskij and in 1949 by A. N. Rogachev. In 1974 the excavations were renewed by an expedition from the scientific-research institute and the Museum of Anthropology of Moscow State University conducted by M. D. Gvozdover and the Leningrad department of the Institute of Archeology AN SSSR conducted by G.P. Grigor'ev.

The cultural layer, which is a greenish loam, measures from 0.2 to 0.4 m in depth. In some places it is intensively coloured red by ochre and charcoal. The cultural layer is followed by flakey loams, up to 40-60 cm thick. These are followed by sand and argillaceous (i.e. clay) deposits. The lower surface of the cultural layer (the floor) bears signs of artificial hollows - that is, pits and 'pit-houses'.

During the human presence here, there existed a cold periglacial steppe. The fauna is represented by mammoth, hare, rhinoceros, horse, reindeer, bison, cave lion, brown bear, wolf, glutton, arctic fox, hare, steppe marmot and others. In addition, there are bones of big birds (swans, geese, crane, silver seagull, raven, eagle, steppe eagle and others). The large quantity of arctic fox and wolf bones and the degree of their conservation make it possible to suggest the existence of fur hunting.

An area of the cultural layer covering about 950 m2 was uncovered in Avdeevo at the old site. This area covers both the main part of the settlement and its periphery. One third of the northwestern part of the settlement has been destroyed by the river Rogozna. On the site an oval living floor was excavated, edged with pits and semisubterranean 'pithouses'. The area of the living floor is about 800 m2. It is 45 m long, and 19-20 m wide. Eight preserved storage-pits near the edge and seven semi-subterranean 'pithouses' have been investigated there. The seven semi- subterranean 'pithouses' are 4 to 8 m2 in area, and measure 0.6-1 m in depth. Judging by the supposed boundaries of the oval, there existed more semi-pithouses and peripheral pits.

The cultural layer of the living floor was irregularly coloured red by ochre and contained a large quantity of cultural remains: animal bone fragments, flints, charcoal. One well preserved hearth and several small patches of ash (possible hearths?) have been discovered there. We traced a series of rather small (up to I m2 in area, I m deep from the floor) storagepits. Outside the oval, behind the line of semi - 'pithouses' the layer loses its coloration and contains only fragmentary (separate) finds.

The new site (New Avdeevo) is located some 20 m to the east of the old one (Old Avdeevo). To date, an area of more than 800 M2 has been opened here. An oval living floor covering an area of some 40OM2 has been discovered. The length is 28 m and the width is about 15 m. This living floor is edged by a line of pits and semi-pithouses. There are 10 such pits in all. Five large hearths, separated from each other by almost equal intervals, were discovered along the long axis of this feature. Several small hearths were also found. There seems to be no system in their location. More than three hundred small pits up to I M2 in diameter were opened on this site. Judging by the intact worked-bone pieces, which were often found in them, they are storage-pits.

The cultural layer was very often coloured black by charcoal and very seldom red by ochre. The concentration of cultural articles in I square metre is higher than that at Old Avdeevo. It is at its highest along the hearth line. Just as at AvdSt, whole big mammoth bones were mostly found in the edge-pits and semi-pithouses. Similar living dwellings were discovered at KostenkiI at the first and second living complexes.

As to the type of the living-complex features at the site, we can say nothing definite, since it is not clear whether they had a common ceiling. We are not very certain about the functions and the construction of the pits and semipithouses either.

Though the two living floors and their stratigraphic location are similar, we cannot say whether these two dwellings existed simultaneously and formed one settlement, or are the remnants of a two-fold occupation of the same place by the same kinfolk.

Flint assemblage

A high quality chalky (cretaceous) flint was used to manufacture the stone tools at Avdeevo. Usually it is transparent, brown-yellow or black-coloured. When it is covered by patina, the flint changes colour and becomes bluish or white. Separate nodules are differentiated by their crust and insertions. Flagstone flint, usually striped and of a poorer quality, as well as compact (thick), fine-grained quartzite, were also used to produce tools.

A total of 24, 100 flint finds was collected at Old Avdeevo, and 39,496 pieces at New Avdeevo up to 1986.1 A total of 33,437 items of knapped flint were gathered at K-1. It is interesting to note that in a cultural layer from 10 cm up to 40 cm thick, the flint density per 1 M2 is rather low.'

At New Avdeevo, within the living floor the average concentration is 40-50 pieces per I ml. But there are some isolated squares where it exceeds 100 items. Behind the line of the pithouses, at the periphery, the quantity of flint seldom reaches 10 pieces.

At New Avdeevo the flint concentration is higherthan at Old Avdeevo; in the living floor the average number is 100 pieces, while in some squares it reaches 300 pieces. The zone of high concentration occupies almost the whole area of the living floor. The density is especially high near the hearths. At the periphery, as in Old Avdeevo, the flint concentration declines sharply, and is usually not higher than 30 pieces per square metre.

The presence of cores, and of the products of their reshaping and of striking flakes, indicates that the knapping was done in the living floor area.

The usage of flint was economical. Large blades were used almost completely for tool manufacturing, broken tools were reshaped and there existed a multiple reshaping of tools in general.

Blades as well as flakes were used to produce tools. Both large (10-16 cm long) and small specimens (1.3-4.5 cm) are found in the tool inventory.

Different techniques were used in tool manufacturing: 1) a widespread burin technique; 2) edge retouch, steep and semisteep, producing edges of different sharpness; 3) partial flat retouch on the ventral surface; 4) trimming (see below); 5) ecaille.

Worked bone

The good preservation of the bone material at the site of Avdeevo made it possible for us to collect a large quantity of worked bones and their fragments, preparation pieces, and bone debris with various traces of usage, especially traces of meat processing. To produce such articles tusks, antlers and bones of different animals were used. The collection of bones with use - traces at Old Avdeevo consists of approximately 600 items, while the collection from New Avdeevo exceeds 2000 items. Such an abundance of well preserved material gives us an opportunity to follow some methods of the manufacturing of worked bone.

Most of the artifacts were produced from mammoth tusks, and animal bones and horns (antlers), though we also take into consideration some scarce artifacts made from soft kinds of rock (marl, shale, sandstone). Nearly all artifacts were made almost faultlessly.

Bone pressure-flaking tools

On hundreds of bone fragments, tusk flakes and artifacts from the sites discussed, there are characteristic groups of dents testifying to the usage of these objects as bone pressure-flaking tools. Sometimes there are several such groups of dents: they are retouch traces.


These were made of fragments of mammoth ribs. Usually their point is heavily worn, and the traces show that they were used as mattocks.

Sometimes with the help of a flat flake the points were sharpened at the end of the inner (concave) part of the rib.


A rather large and massive tool preserving the curve of the tusk. The upper end of the tool is cylindrical. A relatively sharp point, triangular in cross-section and bow-shaped, is distinguished at the lower end due to the treatment of both surfaces. The tool was thus worked from approximately the middle of the preparation piece (Figure 17). The tool was made out of the scrap at the lower part of a young mammoth's tusk.

Spearpoints made of ivory

This group is relatively scarce and consists mostly of fragments.

Awls and piercers

In this category we grouped tools, made from bones and tusk, that are distinguished by the form of the sharp portion and of the butt end.

Needle cases, beads and miscellaneous

A series of so-called needle cases is present at Avdeevo. They are made from the long (tubular) bones of large waterfowl. A joint is carefully cut. The length of the artifacts varies from 117 to 360 mm. The average length is 200 mm. The surface is smoothed and has numerous decorations. Seven of the fourteen intact needle cases are decorated

There is an abundant collection of beads made from sectioned teeth of wolf and polar fox. Cylindrical beads made from long bones of small animals were found besides the beads made from sectioned teeth of polar fox and wolf.

'The spoon': This artifact resembles an alder-tree leaf with a handle. 'The spoon' is 32 mm long, 52 mm wide. The preserved part of the handle is 30 mm in length, but it is only 1-2 mm thick. 'The spoon' is almost plano-concave in cross-section; the straight part is an external fragment of tusk. The slightly raised edges are sharpened. The external part of the artifact is almost untreated, while the internal part is hatched with small criss-cross scratches (Figures 44, 45).

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