The Late Pleistocene beast solonetz of Western Siberia mineral

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					The Late Pleistocene beast solonetz of Western Siberia:
“mineral oases” in mammoth migration paths,
foci of the Palaeolithic man’s activity

S.V. Leshchinskiy
Department of Palaeontology & Historical Geology, Tomsk State University, Tomsk,
Russia -

SUMMARY: The complex archachaeologo-palaeontologo-geological investigations allowed to reveal that the
most considerable in situ sites of mammoth remains in northern Asia, namely of the Shestakovo and Volchya
Griva sites had been the places we called the “beast solonetz” (localities where beasts had satisfied their min-
eral hunger). The mass accumulations of large mammals within the Late Pleistocene beast solonetz bear wit-
ness to the extreme palaeoecological conditions and allow considering the beast solonetz to be “mineral
oases”. The age profiles for the Shestakovo and Volchya Griva mammoths prove the fact that the mineral defi-
ciency and metabolic diseases pri-marily stroke young animals, especially cubs and immature individuals.
The late Pleistocene “oases” were confined to the sandy-argillaceous Cretaceous rocks, the deposits of gla-
cier-dammed basins and spillways. The formation of the beast solonetz resulted from the favourable combi-
nation of geochemical Ca-Na-Mg landscapes and relief. A close relation was established between the beast
solonetz sites, paths of mammoth migrating and travelling of Palaeolithic man groups.

1. INTRODUCTION                                           nomination. Animals came to beast solonetz to
                                                          eat soil and rock, to drink mineralized water
   In Western Siberia two greatest in situ local-         from springs, in order to maintain the water-salt
ities of the late Pleistocene mammalian remains           balance and make up a deficiency of minerals
in Northern Asia have been established:                   in their organism (Panichev 1990).
Shestakovo situated in the Kuznetsk Alatau                  Thus, a new type of a mass burial of big
submontane region and Volchya Griva – in the              mammaian remains has been reconstructed for
Barabinsk steppe (Fig. 1). Until the present              Siberia and the whole Russia. The wide distri-
time their genesis has remained uncertain.                bution of new types of localities has been well
Hypotheses for the alluvial ac-cumulation,                proved by the recent investigations in Vol-chya
deaths of animals in drinking places and from             Griva, where the beast solonetz evolved from
natural catastrophes, as well as from hunting by          the soil solonetz (Leshchinskiy 2001).
the Pa-leolithic men, have not been supported.
The peculiarity of both sites lies in the fact that       2. BEAST SOLONETZ AS “MINERAL OASES”
more than 90% of the thou-sands of bones and
teeth belong to Mammuthus primigenius Blum.                  The reasons for accumulation of large mam-
In 1997, in studying the Shestakovo materials,            malian remains, predominantly of herbivores,
the idea of the accumulation of remains within            within the beast so-lonetz lie in ecology, espe-
the “beast solonetz” was originally conceived             cially in the relations of animals with the abiot-
(Leshchinskiy 1998). The “beast solonetz” is a            ic environment. In the late Pleistocene the terri-
term accepted in Russia for a ground surface              tory of Western Siberia represented the
site containing great amount of certain macro-            periglacial and extraglacial zones. Here, as the
and microelements. It denotes a zoogeological             majority of investigators consider, the woodless
unit, in distinction to solonetz as a pedological         spaces of tundra, forest-tundra, tundra-steppe
      The World of Elephants - International Congress, Rome 2001

      Fig.1 - Location of beast solonetz sites: 1 - Shestakovo, 2 - Volchya Griva.

      and, less often, steppe were prevailing, com-                boric enteritis, endemic goiter, ataxia, Urov
      plexed with the taiga districts along river val-             disease (Kashin-Beck disease – the endemic
      leys. The periodical wide macroclimatic fluctu-              osteoarthrosis deformans), B12 hypo- and avita-
      ations were characteristic of that time. The                 minosis and other disorders]. The metabolic
      extreme environmental conditions were an                     disorders are caused by the deficiency or excess
      additional peculiarity of nearly all periods. It             of both macro- and microelements in the soil.
      has been established for the most part of the                In the taiga-forest zone this is, first of all, the
      late Pleistocene that tundra- and steppe-land                deficiency of Ca, Mg, Na, Co (73% of cases),
      vegetation occurred, as well as the tundra-                  Cu (70%), I (80%), Mo (55%), B (50%), Zn
      steppe fauna representatives (mammoth, wool-                 (49%) and the excess of Sr (15%). The soils of
      ly rhinoceros, bison, horse, saiga, polar fox,               the major steppe and forest-steppe pastures and
      lemming and others); pseudomorphisms by                      grasslands within the West Siberia plain are
      desiccation fissures and cryoturbations, as well             now deficient in I (80%), Co (52%), Cu (40%),
      as aeolian and deluvial processes have been                  P and Mg at the back-ground of the excess of B
      evidenced. Under such conditions, the geo-                   (88%), Zn (76%), Sr (47%) and Mo. The salin-
      chemical landscapes of acid (H) and acid gley                ized parts of the Kulunda steppe are par-ticu-
      (H-Fe) classes most likely predominated.                     larly poor in Cu and Co, 2 to12 times (> 90 %)
      Besides, acid soils (podzolic, peaty-bog, sandy-             below normal, with a consequent deficit of
      loam, sandy) were widely distributed.                        these elements in the vegetational fodder. This
        Nowadays, the soil types mentioned above                   involves the severe decrease in their level in the
      are well developed through Western Siberia in                animal          organism          and,           as
      the tundra zone, taiga-forest non-black earth                a consequence, metabolic disturbances. The
      areas, as well as in the arid steppe zone and,               maximum decrease of the Cu level in organism
      less commonly, in the forest-steppe one. In the              occurs in drought years when the levels of B
      modern view, here the large mammals are often                and Mo in the forage are elevated, thus inhibit-
      affected by endemic diseases [fragility of                   ing the assimilation of the fodder Cu. The
      bones, growth inhibition, the affection of skin,             essential deficit in the main macronutrient ele-
      mucous coats, viscera; acobaltosis, anaemia,                 ments (Ca, Mg, Na and others) affects the
Late Pleistocene beast solonetz of Western Siberia...

water-and-electrolyte balance of organism at            migrate by large distances. In unfavourable
any stage of the individual development, result-        geochemical conditions, the landscapes
ing in the rapid cachexia and death. It has been        enriched with Ca, Mg, Na, Co and other ele-
proved experimentally that the micronutrient            ments played a crucial role in migrating. In spe-
element deficit, mainly in Cu and Co, leads to          cific conditions, “mineral oases”, i.e. beast
the metabolic disturbances, firstly, in young           solonetz, were formed within such landscapes,
ruminants (e.g., the loss of lambs makes 10 to          where, besides the food enriched with macro-
50 %). The disturbances manifest themselves             and micro-nutrients, the animals could eat
as gastroenteritis (the symptoms are as follows:        rocks. During the periods of the utmost miner-
hypotension, diarrhea, dehydration, nutritional         al deficit, dozens of mammoths and other her-
dystrophy, etc.) and bronchopneumonia                   bivores were concentrating in the beast
(hypoxia, locomotor ataxia, limb paresis, wool          solonetz sites. The mortality of the animals and
falling, etc.). As a result, the respiratory organs,    the conditions for the burial of the remains
intestines, liver, heart, kidneys, brain, spinal        were sometimes adequate to form the bone-
cord are affected; the disease proceeds for 5-20        bearing layers.
days, the death rate ranges from 70 to 75% of              The most widespread solonetz minerals,
the number of the animals getting sick                  alongside zeolites and volcanic glass, are those
(Kovalskiy 1974, Leshchinskiy 2001).                    of the montmorillonite group and opalites.
   All foregoing data are presented here to             Montmorillonite is the basic mineral substance
prove our hypothesis for the reasons of mass            of the montmorillonite and bentonite clays; its
accumulation of remains in the sites studied.           crystalline structure is characterised by the
During the late Pleistocene the landscapes              laminated arrangement of anions and cations
impoverished in Ca, Mg, Na, Co, Cu, Zn and              (mainly, of calcium, magnesium and sodium).
other elements necessary for the normal regula-         Each layered packing terminates in hydroxide
tion of metabolism in animals were widely dis-          ions capable of keeping the water molecules,
tributed. There is no doubt that the herbivorous        thus defining the capabilities for the cation
animals dwelling in such landscapes experi-             exchange and sorption. The herbivorous ani-
enced mineral hunger. As compared with other            mals consume clay soils of such kind. This
large mammals, the mammoth had a greater                accounts for the fact that the beast solonetz
demand for the mineral nutrition of full value.         sites were situated near outcrops of crusts of
It was the most massive representative of the           weathering (Panichev 1990). During the
late Pleistocene land fauna in Northern Eurasia         Pleistocene in the West Siberian plain, such
and possessed the greatest body and carcass.            geochemical landscapes of the Ca-Na-Mg-
The mineral deficiency is closely connected             classes were probably formed near the outcrops
with lithophagy, i.e. using rocks, minerals and         of the Mesozoic aleuropelite rock mass, near
mineral water for food. The herbivorous repre-          the deposits of glacier-dammed basins and of
sentatives of the mammoth fauna and, especial-          runoff hollows.
ly, mammoths were undoubtedly lithophagous.                As it was mentioned above, two Late
This is supported by the fact that rock and min-        Pleistocene “mineral oases” with vast mammal
eral debris have been always found in the               remains sites have been discovered, namely
digestive tract and excrements of fossil ani-           Shestakovo (Ca-Mg-Na-solonetz, > 125,000
mals. Thus, in the Kirgilyakh 7-8-month mam-            m2) and Volchya Griva (Ca-Na-solonetz, >
moth-calf, the content of the mineral substance         20,000 m2). The Shestakovo bone-bearing lay-
(a montmorillonite-hydromica) in the large              ers have been dated (14C) to the period from the
intestine terminal and in the rectum makes up           end of the Kargin warming to the middle of the
90% of the whole content mass (Panichev                 Sartan cooling (~ 26 to 18 thousand years ago)
1990).                                                  and in Volchya Griva they correspond to the
   The unstable climate, seasonal feeding and           second half of the Sartan (~ 15 to 10.5 thousand
other circumstances caused mammoths to                  years ago).
      The World of Elephants - International Congress, Rome 2001

      2.1 Shestakovo “mineral oasis”                               aqueous landscape), and the permafrost was the
                                                                   major geochemical factor. Besides ice, the
         The Shestakovo remains site is located on the             frozen rocks contained a negative-temperature
      high right bank of the Kiya river, the left tribu-           water that in winter to autumn migrated to the
      tary of the Chulym river (Fig. 1), 500 m down-               land surface and in spring to summer back-
      stream from the village of Shestakovo (the                   wards. The necessary elements were thereby
      Kemerovo region). The steep bank, which is                   transported from the bedrock to the active
      being destroyed by lateral erosion, is composed              layer, and then with cryogenic mixing of the
      of Lower Cretaceous coastal rocks (aleurolite,               ground they arrived onto the land surface. It is
      sand, sandstone, gritstone and clay) of the Ilek             precisely these sites at the bottom of the hollow
      suite. Upwards, the Upper Pleistocene loess-                 that attracted the herbivores with their moisture
      like loam soils are deposited with disconformi-              and abundance of feeding stuff. Probably, in the
      ty. In the vicinity of the site, there are several           same sites animals consumed the moistened
      tectonic disruptions; along one of them, a huge              argillaceous rock mass. It should be noted that
      block ~ 25 km2 in area has been broken off                   beasts could consume the native rock at the hol-
      probably at the Middle/Late Pleistocene bound-               low slopes too.
      ary. Its south-western portion is an isolated                   In Shestakovo the excavating works of 1975
      landslide ~0.5 km2 in area. It is here that the              to 1978 and 1992 to 1999 revealed more than
      bone-bearing and cultural layers of the                      3000 remains belonging to 11 species of large
      Shestakovo site occurs. The sedimentogenesis,                mammals. The mammoths' bones and teeth
      accumulation of fossil remains and artifacts                 (~18 individuals) made up no less than 90% of
      were proceeding within the moisty hollow; its                all palaeontological findings. Of special inter-
      slopes were made up by ~ 30 m high outcrops.                 est was the age profile of the mammoths deci-
      The hollow owes its formation to the strength-               mated. Immature animals constituted a very
      ened washout of the Cretaceous rocks along the               significant rate (~ 44%), among them were: one
      terrace joint of the landslide (Leshchinskiy                 new-born animal, three calves younger than 2
      1998). The geochemical investigations of clays               years, two individuals aged 2 to 6, one individ-
      and sands of the Ilek suite rocks have demon-                ual aged 6 to 14, besides a fragment of an
      strated the high concentration of Ca, Mg, Na                 embryo carcass was found. The good preserva-
      and other vitally important elements, this likely            tion of the bones of the immature species and
      arising from the salinity of the Cretaceous                  the embryo suggests the presence of “mud
      basin. Calculations have disclosed that the                  baths” inherent in the hydromorphic solonetz
      macronutrient element content of the Lower                   soils (Leshchinskiy 1998, Derevianko et al.
      Cretaceous rocks might have exceeded that of                 2000).
      the Pleistocene soils: by Ca – 14, Mg – 4 and
      Na – 1.8 times. As regards the evaporate accu-               2.2 Volchya Griva “mineral oasis”
      mulation, the concentration might increase sev-
      eral times.                                                    Volchya Griva (Fig. 1) is a ridge situated in
         The unique combination of structure and                   the Barabinsk steppe (near the village of
      topography have defined the existence of the                 Mamontovoye, Novosibirsk region). The
      beast Ca-Mg-Na-solonetz of the lythomorphic-                 remains site is located in the north-eastern part
      hydromorphic type in the hollow for thousands                of the low ridge (10 m high) elongated east-
      of years. Thus, in the damper climate, there                 ward (8 km in length, up to 1 km in width). The
      occurred a washing out of the native rocks and               extent of the burial is evidenced by > 5000
      accumulation of deluvial deposits enriched in                remains discovered, of which ~ 98 % are those
      the scarce elements within the topographic                   of mammoths (~ 50 individuals) and the rest
      depressions. With the climate aridization, the               belong to horses (≥ 3), bisons (≥ 3) and a wolf
      groundwater became primarily important in                    (1). The prodigious material has been gathered
      supplying the necessary elements (the super-                 just for 5 field seasons with the area excavated
Late Pleistocene beast solonetz of Western Siberia...

averaging no more than 2.5% of the whole per-           bances than the adult mammoths (The rate of
spective space.                                         cubs found in Volchya Griva ranged up to 26 %
   At present the Barabinsk plain is a part of the      and that of immature animals was ~ 42 %). The
West Siberian province with the sodic salt              same trend is traced in recent herbivorous ani-
accumulation. Here the calcic, calcium-sodium           mals: in the endemic regions the mortality of
and sodium-hydroxylic geochemical land-                 the young species amounts to as much as 50 %,
scapes are distributed, and the sodic and chlo-         but the number of ill mature animals approxi-
ride-sulphate classes of water migration pre-           mates no more than 20 % of the live-stock capi-
vail. The mineralization of soda waters is max-         ta of the distinct species population (Kovalskiy
imum within the uppermost water-bearing lay-            1974). Consequently, at present the majority of
ers confined to the Pleistocene formations, thus        the recent mature animals have adapted to the
proving the active soda formation throughout            unfavourable conditions. As to the rate of mor-
the whole Quaternary (Shvartsev 1998). In the           bidity in the late Pleistocene, it has been much
Late Pleistocene, salinization alternated repeat-       more considerable, judging from the fact that
edly with desalinization during the process of          the mass burials of the Volchya Griva or
the landscape development in this territory. The        Shestakovo type have no analogues in the mod-
trend for the salinization was directly connect-        ern landscapes of Northern Asia.
ed to the evaporative concentration of chemical
elements migrating upwards from ground                  3. BEAST SOLONETZ AREAS AS THE FOCI OF THE
waters onto the land surface. Besides, it was           PALEOLITHIC MAN’S ACTIVITY
possible that salts were delivered from the ter-
ritory of Central Asia and Kazakhstan together             Basing on the factual evidence of the Pale-
with atmospheric precipitation and dust. In the         olithic encampment in the investigated territory,
desalinisation process, the main role was               as well as on the paleogeographic setting in the
played by tectonic events and humidification            late Pleistocene, we can state that the early man
of climate.                                             was in the closest relation to large animals such
   The geochemical characterisation of the              as mammoth, bison, horse and so on. The re-
Volchya Griva section points to the fact that the       peated findings of bones and teeth of herbivo-
investigated site represented the soda-sulpha-          rous mammals at the encampments bear wit-
te solonetz throughout the Sartan cooling.              ness of the animals’ dominant role in the an-
Besides, the pronounced zonality throughout             cient man's life. The severe conditions of life
the site section proves the desalinization of the       above all forced the man to be a meat-eater. The
landscape in several levels. Of interest were the       meagre plant food couldn’t constantly compen-
results of analyzing coprolite from the bone-           sate for the energy loss in the extreme condi-
bearing layer. The Ca concentration of this fos-        tions of the vital activity. The numerous sites of
sil was high (80000 g/t), but Zn content was            large mammals remains prove the availability
below normal (< 30 g/t). The anomalous con-             of meat. Analysing the specific composition of
tent of the elements in the fossil droppings sug-       the fossil megafauna, one can believe that horse
gested the animal consumption of considerable           and bison, as well as, to a lesser extent, mam-
quantity of clay masses, because in vertebrates         moth, woolly rhinoceros, reindeer, elk and oth-
Ca constantly participates in the "skeleton"            ers served as the main meat source. Along with
metabolism and Zn prevents the mucosa and               the meat, the man used the animal remains
skin lesions and osteopathy (Leshchinskiy               (bones, tusks, teeth, horns, skins, wool, fat, etc.)
2001).                                                  as fuel and raw material for producing tools, ar-
   The age profile in the mammoths of Volchya           ticles of everyday life and art. It has been dis-
Griva was similar to that revealed in                   covered that not only animals hunted down
Shestakovo. This proved that the cubs and               were utilised, but also corpses found and car-
immature species had been more susceptible to           cass remains.
the mineral deficit and the metabolism distur-             There is no doubt that the Late Pleistocene
      The World of Elephants - International Congress, Rome 2001

      beast solonetz has been the foci of the early                gy, must be of prior importance in studying the
      man's activity, as evidenced by the one-act mass             Quarternary.
      accumulations of large mammalian remains.
      Firstly, cubs, weakened and ill species formed               5. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
      the most part of the animals coming to the
      beast solonetz, and hunting for them didn’t in-                 We express a sincere thank to Acad. A.P.
      volve making efforts. Secondly, in the beast                 Derevyanko, Director of the Institute of Ar-
      solonetz there was always offal (animals died                chaeology & Ethnography (Novosibirsk), and
      from diseases, old age, accidents or attacks of              Zenin V.N., the Leading Researcher of this In-
      predators), which also attracted the man. Be-                stitute for their promoting in our studies of some
      sides, the man was omnivorous and, conse-                    material from Shestakovo and Volchya Griva.
      quently, like herbivores, he could also suffer               We gratefully acknowledge Russian Humanitar-
      from the mineral deficit and be lithophagous.                ian Scientific Foundation (project 00-01-00270)
        The activities of the man in the beast solonetz            and Federal Centre “Integration” (project 237)
      are evidenced by the cultural layers of the Pale-            for the financial support of our investigations.
      olithic encampments superpositioned over the
      bone-bearing layers at the sites of Volchya Gri-             6. REFERENCES
      va and Shestakovo. For example, within the
      Pleistocene strata at Shestakovo there are 6 cul-            Derevianko, A.P., Zenin, V.N., Leshchinskiy,
      tural layers from which more than 1500 arti-                    S.V. & Mashchenko, E.N. 2000. Peculiari-
      facts have been excavated (Derevianko et al.                    ties of mammoth accumulation at Shestako-
      2000). Of particular value for the man were                     vo site in West Siberia. Archaeology, Eth-
      probably the mammoth tusks: in excavating at                    nology & Anthropology of Eurasia, 3 (3):
      Shestakovo, the handicrafts with notches, split-                42-55.
      outs and tools made of tusks were found.                     Kovalskiy, V.V. 1974. Geochemical ecology.
                                                                      Moscow: Nauka (in Russian).
      4. CONCLUSION                                                Leshchinskiy, S.V. 1998. Geology and paleo-
                                                                      geography of the late paleolithic encamp-
         The Pleistocene/Holocene boundary has pre-                   ment Shestakovo. In A. Derevianko (ed.),
      sented an impenetrable barrier in the evolution                 Pleistocene paleoecology and cultures of
      of numerous mammalian species of North Asia                     the Stone age in the North Asia and con-
      including Mammuthus primigenius Blum. The                       tiguous territories (1): 209-220. Novosi-
      cardinal change of geochemical landscapes                       birsk: Institute of Archaeology and Ethnog-
      might have led to the disturbance in the ecolog-                raphy, S. B., Russian Academy of Sciences.
      ical connections of biogeocenoses, and this, in              Leshchinskiy, S.V. 2001. New data on geology
      its turn, has played the crucial role in the                    and genesis of the site of Volchya Griva. In
      extinction of megafauna. However, the Sartan                    A. Derevianko & G. Medvedev (eds.), Mod-
      “mineral oases” established in the south of                     ern Problems on Eurasian Palaeolithic:
      Western Siberia suggest the occurrence of                       244-251. Novosibirsk: Institute of Archae-
      refugiums in which mammoths might survive                       ology and Ethnography, S. B., Russian
      during the Holocene. The Paleolithic man has                    Academy of Sciences (in Russian).
      successfully overcome the fatal barrier, for the             Panichev, A.M. 1990. Lithofagy in the life of
      most part owing to the fact that he was an                      animals and human being. Moscow: Nauka
      omnivore. And the changes in the environmen-                    (in Russian)
      tal conditions might have been the most impor-               Shvartsev, S.L. 1998. Hydrogeochemistry of the
      tant factor of his cultural evolution. It is evident            hypergenesis zone. Moscow: Nedra (in
      that the close studies on paleofaunal and pale-                 Russian).
      olithic sites, especially in terms of paleoecolo-