Mysterious mammoth bone circle discovered in Russia could help explain how humans survived last Ice Age

Lower jaws and skulls were used to build a 30ft by 30ft structure

Samuel Osborne
Tuesday 17 March 2020 12:15 GMT
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Researchers still don’t know the purpose of the bony site (
Researchers still don’t know the purpose of the bony site ( (PA)

Mysterious circles of bones made from the remains of dozens of mammoths have helped scientists understand how humans survived the last Ice Age.

The bones at one site in Russia were found to be more than 20,000 years old, according to a new analysis.

A total of 51 lower jaws and 64 individual mammoth skulls were used to construct the walls of the 30ft by 30ft structure.

A small number of reindeer, horse, bear, wolf, red fox and arctic fox bones were also found.

Researchers said the bones were most likely sourced from animal graveyards.

Archaeologists from the University of Exeter found the remains of charred wood and other soft non-woody plant remains within the structure, which is located near the modern village of Kostenki, around 500km south of Moscow.

They said it indicates people were burning wood as well as bones for fuel, and the communities who lived there had learned where to forage for edible plants during the Ice Age.

Dr Alexander Pryor, who led the study, said: “Kostenki 11 represents a rare example of Palaeolithic hunter-gatherers living on in this harsh environment.

“What might have brought ancient hunter gatherers to this site?

“One possibility is that the mammoths and humans could have come to the area en masse because it had a natural spring that would have provided unfrozen liquid water throughout the winter – rare in this period of extreme cold.

“These finds shed new light on the purpose of these mysterious sites.

“Archaeology is showing us more about how our ancestors survived in this desperately cold and hostile environment at the climax of the last Ice Age.

“Most other places at similar latitudes in Europe had been abandoned by this time, but these groups had managed to adapt to find food, shelter and water.”

The last Ice Age swept northern Europe between 75-18,000 years ago and reached its coldest and most severe state around 23-18,000 years ago.

Most communities fled the region, likely due to a lack of prety to hunt and scarce plant resources they depeneded upon for survival, the scientists said.

The bone circles, of which more than 70 are known to exist in Ukraine and the west Russian planes, were eventually abandoned as the climate grew colder and more inhospitable.

Archaeologists previously assumed the circular mammoth bone structures were used as dwellings, but the new study, published in the journal Antiquity, suggestions this may not always have been the case.

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