Archeologists have revealed a striking discovery: an ancient, 25,000-year-old ring-shaped structure build from the bones of more than 60 mammoths, which is believed to have offered shelter for people living near present-day Moscow around 25,000 years ago.
The massive construction process proves the level of ingenuity and knowledge of people living on Earth more than 25,000 years ago as they undertook a mammoth construction project that would eventually give them a much-needed shelter from the last ice age.
The mammoth structure was revealed by archaeologists after excavations at the Kostenski 11 archaeological site, located some 50 kilometers from present-day Moscow. The structure buried beneath the surface are now considered the oldest and largest of Ice Age structure ever built out of mammoth bones.
Archaeologists have revealed that the shelter was likely built by a group of hunter-gatherers who intricately assembled the bones forming a circular building.
The structure measured nearly 11 meters across and must have required a great effort to build. Archaeologists say that the bones from mammoths that were hunted by the group, but some bones may also have come from animals that died of natural causes.
A total of 51 lower jaws and 64 individual mammoth skulls were used to construct the walls. Small numbers of reindeer, horses, bears, wolves, red foxes and arctic fox bones were also found embedded within the structure.
Evidence of human occupation inside the structure was found after researchers discovered charred wood in the soil samples in the middle of the structure.
Although we can’t possibly know exactly what functions the structure served, experts argue that it may have been sued as a shelter that kept people safe from the harsh conditions of the last ice age.
Similar circular mammoth structures have been found in other parts of Europe before. However, these structures date no more than 22,000 years ago.
The newly found structure in Russia proves that people were building comparable structures thousands much earlier than previously thought.
Archaeologists have assumed—based on evidence found near the sites—that the circular structures were used to shelter people from harsh winter conditions.
However, analysis of the Kostenki 11 may challenge that idea. Archeologists have discovered a large, open space inside the circular structure which would make it unsuitable for long-term occupation.
Furthermore, archaeologists have found only a few fragments of stone tools at the site.
Instead of being used as a shelter, some archaeologists proposed that similar structure may have been used by hunter-gatherers to store food and other items for everyday life.
Furthermore, some have proposed that similar constructions were used by ancient people to conduct ritual ceremonies.
The exact reason why the builds chose to build the building using mammoth bones remains another unanswered question, although some archaeologists suggest that some 25,000 years ago, the region was sparsely populated by trees.
Although its exact purpose may continue eluding us, archeologists say that the Ice Age structure is evidence that people burned wood and bone for fuel, and the communities that lived there had learned where to look for edible plants during the Ice Age.
The plants could also have been used for poisons, medicines, ropes, or cloth.
More than 50 small charred seeds were also found at the site: the remnants of locally grown plants or possibly leftovers from cooking and feeding.
“Kostenki 11 represents a rare example of Palaeolithic hunter-gatherers living on in this harsh environment,” the study’s lead author, Alexander Pryor, said in a statement. “What might have brought ancient hunter-gatherers to this site? One possibility is that the mammoths and humans could have come to the area on masse because it had a natural spring that would have provided unfrozen liquid water throughout the winter—rare in this period of extreme cold.”
Archeologists have revealed that Earth’s last ice age, which swept northern Europe approximately 75,000 to 18,000 years ago, reached its coldest and most severe stage at around 23-18,000 years ago, a period which is believed to coincide with when the structure at Kostenski 11 was being built by hunter-gatherers.
Details of the Kostenski 11 Ice Age structure are published in a study in the journal Antiquity.