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Mira: Geoarchaeological and zooarchaeological studies at a stratified early Upper Paleolithic site

During August 2012, new field research was conducted at Mira, an open-­air, stratified early Upper Paleolithic (EUP) site located in the Lower Dnepr Valley, south-­central Ukraine. Earlier research had revealed two occupation layers at the site. The goals of the new research were to collect more information on the geoarchaeology and zooarchaeology of Mira in order to better understand how the site contributes to the emerging pattern of Homo sapiens dispersal and adaptation on the East European Plain.

A new stratigraphic profile was cleaned off, exposing the two occupation layers and overlying alluvium of the Second Terrace. Several square meters of occupation area were excavated, although only isolated stone flakes and bone fragments were recovered from one layer (Layer I). Samples were collected for soil micromorphology, mineralogy, and paleo-­entomology, as well as for OSL dates and new radiocarbon dates on the occupation layers. The large assemblage of horse remains excavated earlier from the upper occupation layer was studied in Kiev.      

Mira represents a unique geomorphic and paleo-­topographic setting for an EUP site on the East European Plain—the artifacts, features, and associated faunal remains were deposited near the center of the wide Dnepr River floodplain towards the end of an interstadial phase (MIS 3) that preceded the beginning of the Last Glacial Maximum (~30,000 cal BP). At the time of occupation, the floodplain was relatively stable, characterized by low-­energy fluvial deposition (periodic overbank flooding) and weak soil formation, apparently under relatively cold conditions. It remains unclear why people were drawn to the site location on at least two occasions, but the upper occupation level is associated with the butchering of a group of horses—probably a mare-­band—that were killed near the site (perhaps with the aid of an artificial barrier/enclosure). The emphasis on large mammal butchering best accounts for the high percentage of "archaic" tools (e.g., side-­scrapers) in this level. The lower occupation level contains bladelets typical of the early Gravettian industry, now dated to roughly 40,000 cal BP in the region (Prat et al. 2011), and probably related to the similar Ahmarian industry that appears to represent a movement of modern humans directly from the Levant via the Caucasus into Eastern Europe (at ~42,000 cal BP).

Read the new paper "Geoarchaeological and bioarchaeological studies at Mira, an early Upper Paleolithic site in the Lower Dnepr Valley, Ukraine," by John Hoffecker, V. T. Holliday, V. N. Stepanchuk, et al., January 2014.

Soil micromorphology anlaysis of thin sections from the occupations layers at Mira by Paul Goldberg (Boston University): download PDF data.

Horse (Equus latipes) bones from Mira, Layer I, excavated by V.N. Stepanchuk (Institute of Archaeology, Ukrainian Academy of Sciences); taphonomic database compiled by J.F. Hoffecker in Kiev (November 2012): download PDF data.

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