Skip to main content Accessibility help

The oldest art of the Eurasian Arctic: personal ornaments and symbolic objects from Yana RHS, Arctic Siberia

  • Vladimir V. Pitulko (a1), Elena Y. Pavlova (a2), Pavel A. Nikolskiy (a3) and Varvara V. Ivanova (a4)


The excavated site termed Yana RHS is dated to about 28000 BP and contained a stunning assemblage of ornamented and symbolic objects—the earliest art to be excavated in the Arctic zone. Decorated beads, pendants and needles connect the site to the Eurasian Upper Palaeolithic; but other forms and ornaments are unparalleled. Shallow dishes and anthropomorphic designs on mammoth tusks find echoes among hunting practice and shamanistic images of the indigenous Yukaghir people recorded in the early twentieth century.



Hide All
Abramova, Z.A. 1995. L’art paléolithique d’Europe orientale et de Sibérie. Grenoble: Millon J..
Abramova, Z.A. 2003-2004. A catalogue of depictions of mammoth in European Palaeolithic miniature art. Stratum Plus 1: 2367.
Anikovich, M.V. 2003. The early Upper Paleolithic in Eastern Europe. Archaeology, Ethnology, and Anthropology of Eurasia 2(29): 1529.
Anikovich, M.V. 2007. Upper Paleolithic origins in Eastern Europe and in Gorny Altai. Archaeology, Ethnology, and Anthropology of Eurasia 1(14): 215.
Anikovich, M.V., Sinitsyn, A.A., Hoffecker, J.F., Holliday, V.T., Popov, V.V., Lisitsyn, S.N., Forman, S.L., Levkovskaya, G.M., Pospelova, G.A., Kuz&Mina, I.E., Burova, N.D., Goldberg, P., Macphail, R.I., Giaccio, B. & Praslov, N.D.. 2007. Early Upper Paleolithic in Eastern Europe and implications for the dispersal of modern humans. Science 315: 253–26.
Basilyan, A.E., Anisimov, M.A., Nikolskiy, P.A. & Pitulko, V.V.. 2011. Wooly mammoth mass accumulation next to the Paleolithic Yana RHS site, Arctic Siberia: its geology, age, and relation to past human activity. Journal of Archaeological Science 38: 2461–74.
Derevianko, A.P. & Rybin, E.P.. 2003. The oldest evidence for symbolic behavior of the Palaeolithic men in Gorny Altai. Archaeology, Ethnology, and Anthropology of Eurasia 3(15): 2750.
Derevianko, A.P. & Shunkov, M.V.. 2004. Formation of the Upper Palaeolithic traditions in Gorny Altai. Archaeology, Ethnology, and Anthropology of Eurasia 3(19): 1240.
Derevianko, A.P., Shunkov, M.V., Agadjanian, A.K., Baryshnikov, G.F., Malaeva, E.M., Ulianov, V.A., Kulik, N.A., Postnov, A.V. & Anoikin, A.A.. 2003. Paleoenvironment and Paleolithic human occupation of Gorny Altai: subsistence and adaptation in the vicinity of Denisova Cave. Novosibirsk: Institute of Archaeology & Ethnography SB RAS (in Russian).
Derevianko, A.P., Shunkov, M.V. & Volkov, P.V.. 2008. A Paleolithic bracelet from Denisova Cave. Archaeology, Ethnology, and Anthropology of Eurasia 2(34): 1325.
Dowson, T. & Porr, M.. 2001. Special objects—special creatures: shamanistic imagery and Aurignacian art of south-west Germany, in Price, N. (ed.) The archaeology of shamanism: 165–>77. London & New York: Routledge.
Gakkel, Y.Y. (ed.) 1967. Novosibirskie ostrova [New Siberian islands]. Leningrad: Gidrometeoizdat.
Gvozdover, M. 1995. Art of the mammoth hunters: the finds from Avdeevo (Oxbow Monograph 49). Oxford: Oxbow.
Iochelson, W.I. 1926 (trans. 2005). The Yukaghir and the Yukaghirized Tángus (Publications of the Jesup North Pacific Expedition 9). Translated by Ivanov, V.K. & Ivanova-Unarova, Z.I.. Novosibirsk: Nauka.
Ivanov, S.V. 1954. Materialy po izobrazitelnomu iskusstvu narodov Sibiri XIX - nachala XX veka [Materials on decorative art of native Siberians from the 19th century to the beginning of the 20th century]. Moskva & Leningrad: Izdatelstvo Akademii Nauk SSSR.
Ivanov, S.V. 1970. Skulptura narodov Severa Sibiri [Sculpture of the North Siberian natives]. Leningrad: Nauka.
Kayzer, A.A. 2007. Technologiya podgotovki I obrabotki biologicheskogo materiala severnogo olenya [Technology of preparing and processing of reindeer's biological material]. Aftoreferat Dokt. diss. [Summary of Doctor of Science Dissertation], Norylsk.
Lbova, L.V. 2000. Paleolithic of the NW trans-Baikal zone. Ulan-Udhe: Buryatsky NC SO RAN.
Lisitsyn, N.F. 2000. The Upper Paleolithic of the Chulim-Yenisei region. St Petersburg: Archaeologica Petropolitana (in Russian).
Malorie, J.P. 1968 (trans. 2002). Les derniers rois de Thulé. Translated by Proschenok-Kalvina, O.P. & Vasilkova, V.V.. St Petersburg: Petropolis.
Medvedev, G.I. 1998. Art from central Siberian Palaeolithic sites, in Derevianko, A.P. (ed.) The Paleolithic of Siberia: new discoveries and interpretations: 132–37. Novosibirsk: Institute of Archaeology & Ethnography SB RAS; Urbana (IL): University of Illinois Press.
Mussi, M., Cinq-Mars, J. & Bolduc, P.. 2000. Echoes from the mammoth steppe: the case of the Balzi Rossi, in Roebrocks, W., Mussi, M., Svoboda, J. & Fennema, K. (ed.) Hunters of the golden age: the Mid Upper Palaeolithic of Eurasia 30-20 000 BP: 105–23. Leiden: University of Leiden.
Pitulko, V.V. 2006. The Stone Age cultural chronology of north eastern Asia, in Papers of the Second Northern Archaeological Congress: 307–22. Charoid: Ekaterinburg and Khanty-Mansiisk.
Pitulko, V.V. 2008. Principal excavation techniques under permafrost conditions (based on Zhokhov and Yana sites, northern Yakutia). Archaeology, Ethnology and Anthropology of Eurasia 2: 2633.
Pitulko, V.V. 2011. Archaeological component of the Berelekh complex. Transactions of the Institute for the History of Material Culture 6: 85103.
Pitulko, V.V. & Ivanova, V.V.. 2010. Production and use of the red mineral dye on the Paleolithic camp site Yanskaya, eastern Yakutia, in Papers of the Third Northern Archaeological Congress: 4647. Charoid: Ekaterinburg and Khanty-Mansiisk.
Pitulko, V.V. & Pavlova, E.Y.. 2010. Geoarchaeology and radiocarbon chronology of the Stone Age of north-east Asia. St Petersburg: Nauka.
Pitulko, V.V., Nikolsky, P.A., Girya, E.Y., Basilyan, A.E., Tumskoy, V.E., Koulakov, S.A., Astakhov, S.N., Pavlova, E.Y. & Anisimov, M.A.. 2004. The Yana RHS site: humans in the Arctic before the Last Glaciation. Science 303: 5256.
Pitulko, V.V., Pavlova, E.Y., Kuzmina, S.A., Nikolskiy, P.A., Basilyan, A.E., Tumskoy, V.E. & Anisimov, M.A.. 2007. Natural-climatic changes in the Yana-Indigirka lowland during the terminal Kargino time and habitat of Late Paleolithic man in northern part of East Siberia. Doklady Earth Sciences 417: 1256–60.
Reich, D., Green, R.E., Kircher, M., Krause, J., Patterson, N., Durand, E.Y., Viola, B., Briggs, A.W., Stenze, U., Johnson, P.L.F., Maricic, T., Good, J.M., Marques-Bonet, T., Alkan, C., Fu, Qiaomei, Mallick, S., Li, Heng, Meyer, M., Eichler, E.E., Stoneking, M., Richards, M., Talamo, S., Shunkov, M.V., Derevianko, A.P., Hublin, J.J., Kelso, J., Slatkin, M. & PÄÄBo, S.. 2010. Genetic history of an archaic hominin group from Denisova Cave in Siberia. Nature 468: 1053–60.
Schuster, C. & Carpenter, E.. 1996. Patterns that connect. New York: H.N. Abrams.
Shargorodskiy, S.M. 1895. Ob yukagirskih pismenah. S tablitseyu risunkov [About the Yukaghir's writing. With table of patterns]. Zemlevedenie II-III: 135–82.
Sinitsyn, A.A. & Praslov, N.D.. 1997. Radiocarbon chronology of the Paleolithic of Eastern Europe and Northern Asia: problems and perspectives. St Petersburg: Institute for the History of Material Culture RAS.
Sulerzhitsky, L.D. 2004. The chronological span of some Late Palaeolithic sites according to the radiocarbon dating of megafauna. Russian Archaeology 3: 103112.
Svoboda, J., LoČZek, V. & VlČCek, E.. 1996. Hunters between East and West: the Paleolithic of Moravia. New York & London: Plenum Press.
Tashak, V.I. 2009. Symbolism in the early Upper Palaeolithic of western Transbaikalia. Transactions of the Institute for the History of Material Culture 4: 5062.
Tinoco, J. 1982. Dietary requirements and functions of a-linolenic acid in animals. Progress in Lipid Research 21: 11-45
Vanhaeren, M. & D'Errico, F.. 2006. Aurignacian ethno-linguistic geography of Europe revealed by personal ornaments. Journal of Archaeological Science 33: 1105–28.
Volkov, R.B., Shirokov, V.N. & Ulitko, A.I.. 2007. Bone, tusk, and horn artefacts from the Upper Paleolithic site in Bobyliok grotto. Russian Archaeology 4: 102106.
Ward, D. 1968. The divine twins: an Indo-European myth in Germanic tradition. Berkeley (CA): University of California Press.
Zhukova, L.N. 1988. Obraz cheloveka v piktographicheskom pis’me yukagirov [Appearance of human beings in the Yukaghir pictographic writing] , in Yazyk, myf, kultura narodov Sibiri: 126–47. Yakutsk: YGU.


The oldest art of the Eurasian Arctic: personal ornaments and symbolic objects from Yana RHS, Arctic Siberia

  • Vladimir V. Pitulko (a1), Elena Y. Pavlova (a2), Pavel A. Nikolskiy (a3) and Varvara V. Ivanova (a4)


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed