Skip to main content Accessibility help

‘They came from the ends of the earth’: long-distance exchange of obsidian in the High Arctic during the Early Holocene

  • Vladimir V. Pitulko (a1), Yaroslav V. Kuzmin (a2) (a3), Michael D. Glascock (a4), Elena Yu. Pavlova (a5) and Andrei V. Grebennikov (a6) (a7)...

Zhokhov Island in the Siberian High Arctic has yielded evidence for some of the most remote prehistoric human occupation in the world, as well as the oldest-known dog-sled technology. Obsidian artefacts found on Zhokhov have been provenanced using XRF analysis to allow comparison with known sources of obsidian from north-eastern Siberia. The results indicate that the obsidian was sourced from Lake Krasnoe—approximately 1500km distant—and arrived on Zhokhov Island c. 8000 BP. The archaeological data from Zhokhov therefore indicate a super-long-distance Mesolithic exchange network.

Corresponding author
*Authors for correspondence (Email:;
Hide All
Anisimov, M.A., Ivanova, V.V., Pushina, Z.V. & Pitulko, V.V.. 2009. Lagoon deposits of the Jokhov Island: age, conditions of formation and meanings for paleogeographical reconstructions of the region of Novosibirsk Islands. Izvestiya Rossiiskoi Akademii Nauk, Seriya Geograficheskaya 5: 107–19 (in Russian).
Arutiunov, S.A. & Sergeev, D.A.. 2006. Ancient cultures of the Asiatic Eskimos: the Uelen cemetery. Anchorage (AK): Shared Beringian Heritage Program.
Basilyan, A.E. & Nikolskiy, P.A.. 2007. The key section of the Quaternary deposits at the Cape Kamenny (New Siberia Island). Bulleten Komissii po Izucheniyu Chetrevtichnogo Perioda 67: 7684 (in Russian).
Bauch, H.A., Mueller-Lupp, T., Taldenkova, E., Spielhagen, L.F., Kassens, H., Grootes, P.M., Thiede, J., Heinemeier, J. & Petryashov, V.V.. 2001. Chronology of the Holocene transgression at the North Siberian margin. Global and Planetary Change 31: 125–39.
Dikov, N.N. 1997. Asia at the juncture with America in antiquity: the Stone Age of the Chukchi Peninsula. Anchorage (AK): Shared Beringian Heritage Program.
Fedoseeva, S.A. 1980. Ymyyakhtakhskaya kultura Severo-Vostochnoi Azii. Novosibirsk: Nauka (in Russian).
Gavrilov, A.V., Romanovskii, N.N. & Hubberten, H.-W.. 2006. Paleogeographic scenario of the postglacial transgression on the Laptev Sea shelf. Kriosfera Zemli 10: 3950 (in Russian).
Girya, E. Yu. & Pitulko, V.V.. 1994. High Arctic Mesolithic culture of Zhokhov Island: insert tools and knapping technology. Arctic Anthropology 31(2): 1729.
Glascock, M.D. & Ferguson, J.R.. 2012. Report on the analysis of obsidian source samples by multiple analytical methods. Unpublished manuscript available upon request from the Archaeometry Laboratory, The University of Missouri.
Glascock, M.D., Braswell, G.E. & Cobean, R.H.. 1998. A systematic approach to obsidian source characterization, in Shackley, M.S. (ed.) Archaeological obsidian studies: method and theory: 1565. New York: Springer.
Glascock, M.D., Speakman, R.J. & Neff, H.. 2007. Archaeometry at the University of Missouri Research Reactor and the provenance of obsidian artefacts in North America. Archaeometry 49: 353–67.
Grebennikov, A.V. & Kuzmin, Y.V.. 2017. The identification of archaeological obsidian sources on Kamchatka Peninsula (Russian Far East) using geochemical and geological data: current progress. Quaternary International 442B: 95103.
Grebennikov, A.V., Kuzmin, Y.V., Glascock, M.D., Popov, V.K., Budnitskiy, S.Y., Dikova, M.A. & Nozdrachev, E.A.. 2018. The Lake Krasnoe obsidian source in Chukotka (north-eastern Siberia): geological and geochemical frameworks for provenance studies in Beringia. Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences 10: 599614.
Kashin, V.A. 2013. Neolit srednei Kolymy. Novosibirsk: Nauka (in Russian).
Kiryak (Dikova), M.A. 2010. The Stone Age of Chukotka, north-eastern Siberia (new materials) (British Archaeological Reports International series 2099). Oxford: Archaeopress.
Kuzmin, Y.V. 2015. Northern and North-eastern Asia: archaeology, in Bellwood, P.S. (ed.) The global prehistory of human migration: 191–96. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell.
Kuzmin, Y.V. & Glascock, M.D.. 2014. The neutron activation analysis of volcanic glasses in the Russian Far East and neighbouring North-east Asia: a summary of the first 20 years of research, in Ono, A., Glascock, M.D., Kuzmin, Y.V. & Suda, Y. (ed.) Methodological issues for characterisation and provenance studies of obsidian in Northeast Asia: 8593. Oxford: Archaeopress.
Kuzmin, Y.V., Speakman, R.J., Glascock, M.D., Popov, V.K., Grebennikov, A.V., Dikova, M.A. & Ptashinsky, A.V.. 2008. Obsidian use at the Ushki Lake complex, Kamchatka Peninsula (northeastern Siberia): implications for Terminal Pleistocene and Early Holocene human migrations in Beringia. Journal of Archaeological Science 35: 2179–87.
Kuzmin, Y.V., Alekseyev, A.N., Dyakonov, V.M., Grebennikov, A.V. & Glascock, M.D.. 2018. Determination of the source for prehistoric obsidian artifacts from the lower reaches of Kolyma River, northeastern Siberia, Russia, and its wider implications. Quaternary International 476: 95101.
Lee, E.J., Merriwether, D.A., Kasparov, A.K., Nikolskiy, P.A., Sotnikova, M.V., Pavlova, E. Yu. & Pitulko, V.V.. 2015. Ancient DNA analysis of the oldest canid species from the Siberian Arctic and genetic contribution to the domestic dog. PLoS ONE 10: e0125759.
Lee, E.J., Merriwether, D.A., Kasparov, A.K., Khartanovich, V.I., Nikolskiy, P.A., Shidlovskiy, F.K., Gromov, A.V., Chikisheva, T.A., Chasnyk, V.G., Timoshin, V.B., Pavlova, E.Y. & Pitulko, V.V.. 2018. A genetic perspective of prehistoric hunter-gatherers in the Siberian Arctic: mitochondrial DNA analysis of human remains from 8000 years ago. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 17: 943–49.
Makeyev, V.M., Pitulko, V.V. & Kasparov, A.K.. 1992. Ostrova De-Longa: an analysis of palaeoenvironmental data. Polar Record 28(167): 301306.
Makeyev, V.M., Ponomareva, D.P., Chernova, G.M., Pitulko, V.V. & Solovyeva, D.V.. 2003. Vegetation and climate of the New Siberian Islands for the past 15 000 years. Arctic, Antarctic and Alpine Research 35: 5666.[0056:VACOTN]2.0.CO;2
Manley, W.F. 2002. Post-glacial flooding of the Bering Land Bridge: a geospatial animation. INSTAAR, University of Colorado, v. 1. Available at: (accessed 7 January 2019).
Pitulko, V.V. 1993. An Early Holocene site in the Siberian High Arctic. Arctic Anthropology 30: 1321.
Pitulko, V.V. 2001. Terminal Pleistocene/Early Holocene occupation in North-east Asia and the Zhokhov assemblage. Quaternary Science Reviews 20: 267–75.
Pitulko, V.V. 2003. The bear-hunters of Zhokhov Island, east Russian Arctic, in Habu, J., Savelle, J.M., Koyama, S. & Hongo, H. (ed.) Hunter-gatherers of the north Pacific Rim: 141–52. Osaka: National Museum of Ethnology.
Pitulko, V.V. 2013. The Zhokhov Island site and ancient habitation in the Arctic. Burnaby: SFU Archaeology Press.
Pitulko, V.V. & Kasparov, A.K.. 1996. Ancient Arctic hunters: material culture and survival strategy. Arctic Anthropology 33(1): 136.
Pitulko, V.V. & Kasparov, A.K.. 2017. Archaeological dogs from the Early Holocene Zhokhov site in the eastern Siberian Arctic. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 13: 491515.
Pitulko, V.V. & Makeev, V.. 1991. Ancient Arctic hunters. Nature 349: 374.
Pitulko, V.V. & Pavlova, E. Yu.. 2015. Radiocarbon dating of culture-bearing deposits of the Zhokhov site (New Siberia Archipelago, Siberian Arctic). Zapiski Instituta Istorii Materialnoi Kultury RAN 12: 2755 (in Russian).
Pitulko, V.V. & Pavlova, E. Yu.. 2016. Geoarchaeology and radiocarbon chronology of Stone Age Northeast Asia. College Station: Texas A&M University Press.
Pitulko, V.V., Pavlova, E. Yu., Ivanova, V.V. & Girya, E. Yu.. 2012. The Zhokhov site: geology and stone industry (preliminary report on the excavations of 2000 through 2005). Stratum plus 1: 211–56 (in Russian).
Pitulko, V.V., Ivanova, V.V., Kasparov, A.K. & Pavlova, E. Yu.. 2015. Reconstructing prey selection, hunting strategy and seasonality of the Early Holocene frozen site in the Siberian High Arctic: a case study on the Zhokhov site faunal remains, De Long Islands. Environmental Archaeology 20: 120–57.
Renfrew, C. 1975. Trade as action at a distance: questions of integration and communication, in Lamberg-Karlovsky, C. (ed.) Ancient civilization and trade: 359. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.
Renfrew, C. & Dixon, J.. 1976. Obsidian in Western Asia: a review, in Sieveking, G. de G., Longworth, I.H. & Wilson, K.E. (ed.) Problems in economic and social archaeology: 137–50. London: Duckworth.
Shackley, M.S. 2005. Obsidian: geology and archaeology in the North American Southwest. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.
Shackley, M.S. (ed.). 2011. X-ray fluorescence spectrometry (XRF) in geoarchaeology. New York: Springer.
Vakhtin, N.B., Golovko, E.V. & Schweitzer, P.. 2004. Russkie starozhily Sibiri: sotsialnye i simvolicheskie aspekty samosoznaniya. Moscow: Novoe Izdatelstvo (in Russian).
von Wrangell, F. 1840. Narrative of an expedition to the Polar Sea, in the years 1820, 1821, 1822, & 1823. London: James Madden & Co.
Weinstock, J. 2005. The role of skis and skiing in the settlement of early Scandinavia. The Northern Review 25–26: 172–96.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

  • ISSN: 0003-598X
  • EISSN: 1745-1744
  • URL: /core/journals/antiquity
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



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