Archaeologists led by Alexander Pryor from the University of Exeter have found an amazing monument in Russia which is at least 24,000 to 25,000 years old. It is a large circular structure made out of mammoth bones. The site 280 km south of Moscow has been given the name Kostenki 11 after the nearby village.
This is not the first monument made of mammoth bones to have been found in Russia but it is rather unusual. That is partly because of its size, at least 12 metres in diameter, but mainly because archaeologists have no idea why it was built or what purpose it served.
There appears to be no entrance. Was it perhaps a storage depot for food? Was it some kind of large hut where hunter-gatherers sheltered to survive the cold winters of the Ice Age? Charred wood found in the middle of the structure suggests that there was a fire here. But on the other hand, many of the bones still today carry traces of flesh and fat. That would have caused an awful smell, making a stay in such a hut very unpleasant and improbable.
As mammoth bones are very heavy and would have been difficult to build with, it has been suggested that the building may have been accorded some ritual significance.
At least 64 mammoth skulls have been found within the monument, evidence of the enormous number of animals necessary for building the structure. That also suggests that the local people were probably accustomed to killing mammoths in large numbers.
There are many unanswered questions and further research will be necessary before the monument reveals its secrets. One thing that is clear is that there were people in this part of the world during the Ice Age and that they knew how to survive in this cold landscape.
Translation Alun Harvey