An international team of archaeologists led by researchers from the Freie University of Berlin has made a pioneering discovery in a remote region of Siberia. They uncovered prehistoric fortified settlements that reveal hunters-gatherers in Siberia were building complex defensive structures around their villages as early as 8,000 years ago.

This changes our understanding of early human societies by challenging the idea that permanent settlements with monumental architecture and complex social organizations only emerged with the advent of agriculture. The study was published in the journal Antiquity.

The team’s fieldwork focused on the fortified settlement of Amnya, recognized as the northernmost Stone Age fortress of Eurasia. Led by Professor Henny Piezonka of Freie University and Dr. Natalia Chairkina of Yekaterinburg, Russia, the research involved archaeologists from Germany and Russia excavating the site in 2019.

Through detailed archaeological excavations at Amnya, they collected samples for radiocarbon dating which confirmed the site’s prehistoric age, establishing it as the oldest known fortress in the world.

Tanja Schreiber, an archaeologist from the Berlin Institute of Prehistoric Archaeology and co-author of the study, explains their findings revealed Siberian westerners had a sophisticated lifestyle based on the rich resources of the taiga forest environment.

The ancient inhabitants fished in the Amnya River and hunted elk and reindeer with bone spears and stone points. To preserve surpluses of fish oil and meat, they crafted elaborately decorated pottery.

About ten such fortified Stone Age sites with sunken houses surrounded by earth walls and wooden palisades have been discovered so far, suggesting an advanced architectural and defensive capability.

This discovery challenges the traditional view that permanent settlements with defenses only emerged with agricultural societies, disproving the idea farming and herding were prerequisites for societal complexity.

Siberian finds, along with other global examples like Göbekli Tepe in Anatolia, contribute to a broader reassessment of evolutionary notions implying a linear development from simple to complex societies.

In many parts of the world, hunter-gatherer communities developed large settlements by exploiting aquatic resources, as the abundance of natural resources in the Siberian taiga like annual fish runs and migrating herds likely played a crucial role in the emergence of hunter-gatherer fortresses.

Fortified riverside settlements may have served as strategic locations to control and exploit productive fishing places, reflecting a competitive dynamic derived from resource hoarding and population growth not previously associated with hunter-gatherer societies.

The discoveries emphasize the diversity of pathways that led to complex social organizations manifested in monumental constructions like the Siberian fortresses, highlighting how local environmental conditions shaped different trajectories for human societies.


Sources

Freie Universität Berlin | Piezonka H, Chairkina N, Dubovtseva E, Kosinskaya L, Meadows J, Schreiber T. The world’s oldest-known promontory fort: Amnya and the acceleration of hunter-gatherer diversity in Siberia 8000 years ago. Antiquity. 2023;97(396):1381-1401. doi:10.15184/aqy.2023.164


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