The conclusion is that ancient people used dog sleds to cover these remarkable distances 'at the ends of the earth'. Picture: Alexander Kutsky But how? The discovery is breathtaking.
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The distance between the exchange points is about km. At the time Zhokhov Island - now part of the De Long Islands in the New Siberian archipelago - was connected to the Siberian mainland, and the climate was milder than today.
Yet the distance is still stunning. Obsidian was used by ancient people at a famous site on Zhokhov for tools: the black or green volcanic glass, an extrusive igneous rock, was a material of choice. A scientific article in Antiquity reveals how a random 14 of these were analysed to identify their provenance.
They were examined using non-destructive X-ray fluorescence XRF to compare the obsidian with known sources in northeastern Siberia.
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The geochemistry of the Zhokhov artefacts shows with 90 per cent confidence that it came from a source at Cape Medvezhiy on Lake Krasnoe in Chukotka. Top: Obsidian pebbles found on the shored of the Lake Krasnoye.
Bottom: Lake Krasnoye.
Pictures: Yaroslav Kuzmin, Evgeny Basov The scientists doubt the ancient people themselves carried the obsidian all this way. More likely was an ancient exchange, or trading, system. The article states: 'In winter time, such a journey required particular skills and technology, such as skiing or the use of snow shoes, both of which were common elsewhere in the Arctic from at least the Early Holocene.
In both the prehistoric and modern Arctic, the latter is evidenced by sledges pulled by dogs or reindeer. Parts of sledges found on the Zhokhov site. Indeed, today, the popular Beringia dog-sled race — a super-long-distance expedition of over km —normally takes place during this time of the year.
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Fewer obsidian artefacts are found in and around the Kolyma River mouth, which is approximately km from the source. Sites at the mouth of the Kolyma and, possibly, at the mouth of the Indigirka could serve as intermediate points.
It was around 7, years ago that the the territory of Zhokhov became detached from the mainland. They conclude: 'Early Holocene super-long-distance obsidian exchange in the High Arctic is now scientifically demonstrated.
Such an exchange system is a remarkable example of a subsistence strategy in use in northern Siberia at that time, if not earlier. The presence of other Mesolithic sites on the north-eastern Siberian Arctic mainland testify — indirectly — to the active contact between human groups across this region.
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