siberia - ?· 52 malta is the richest site of prehistoric art in siberia. it is located in the...

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  • 51

    Siberia

    The Siberian region, as compared to Europe, is relatively poor inPalaeolithic art. This could be explained by the fact that at the endof the Palaeolithic period the Western and partly also Central Sibe-ria lied under a vast body of water (see Figure 2), but also by thefact that the region has not been adequately explored. The mostimportant art finds come from the Yenisei and Angara watershed,the prehistoric settlements of Malta and Buret; single art objectshave also been discovered at the Yenisei and south of Lake Baikal.

    Afontova Gora is located at the Yenisei in the city of Krasnoiarsk,and is the westernmost of all Siberian sites. Two stone discs withscratched surfaces, three ivory spherical objects, stone and bonediscs, beads, jewellery madeof hare bones, pendantsmade from the teeth of rein-deer and arctic fox and twobone and horn objects withpierced holes (Figure 48)have been found in its cul-tural layers. The finds arepreserved at the State Her-mitage Museum and are 20.9millennia old (PSSSR 1984:357).

    The Upper Palaeolithic settlement of Ust-Kova is situated in themouth of the Kova River, the left tributary of the Angara. The lowerstrata of this three-layered site are surprisingly old (2832.9 mil-lennia) among the prehistoric settlements of Siberia. More than 3thousand stone objects, over ten thousand bone fragments and someprehistoric art finds have been discovered in its central, 23.9 mil-lennia old cultural layer. The most intriguing discoveries are amammoth figurine covered with remnants of red ochre and a geo-metrical figure, which is believed to be a stylised representation ofa nesting bird. The same layer has revealed bone beads and pen-dants of animal teeth (Vasilevski & Drozdov 1983). The ivory mam-moth figure (8.4 x 4.8 x 2.3 cm) is so far unique among the findsfrom Siberia (Figure 49).

    Figure 48. Three-holed objects of AfontovaGora II (Abramova 1962: LIX).

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    Malta is the richest site of prehistoric artin Siberia. It is located in the district ofBratsk, some 85 km northwest of Irkutsk,on the left bank of the Angaras tributaryBelaia. The settlement was discovered in1928 and became known not only for pre-historic art finds, but also for remnants ofhouses and a childs burial with lavish gravegoods. Directly after the discovery and later,in 1956, a well-known archaeologist and an-thropologist M. M. Gerassimov conductedarchaeological excavations at the site. Thesettlement of Malta was first estimated tobe 22 millennia old; later radiocarbon dat-ing, however, revealed that the age of thesettlement is 14.7 millennia (PSSSR 1984:314315). Objects found from this site arepreserved in the State Hermitage Museumand the Moscow National History Museum.

    The prehistoric settlement of Malta is richin female figurines of mammoth ivory(about 30 all together), most of which havepreserved intact. Women are depicted partlyin the manner used in Eastern Europe: of-ten naked, some relatively corpulent. Mostof the figurines are still slender-shaped.

    Figure 49. Themammoth figurefrom Ust-Kova(Vasilevski &Drozdov 1983).

    Figure 50. An ivory femalefigurine with detailedfacial features from theprehistoric settlement ofMalta (Yelinek 1982: 315).

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    Female figurines discovered from Malta differ from the East-Euro-pean Palaeolithic Venus figures by clothing, realistic depiction andmore detailed facial features. The shapes of European Venus fig-ures are often exaggerated, little attention is paid to the face andclothing. The most artistic Malta find is an 8 cm tall ivory figurinefound in 1956, which depicts an older naked woman (Figure 50).

    The figure has a highly distinctive face, expressing even the wom-ans mood. The face has nos-trils, eyes, chin, mouth, evenwrinkles around the mouth.Long curly hair frames its face,breasts and buttocks are distin-guishable on a disproportion-ately small body. Limbs are notaccentuated; even the figureshands resting in its lap arevaguely modelled. The legs ta-per towards the feet and end ina pierced conical tip, suggest-ing that the figurine was wornupside down as a pendant.

    The numerous female figurinesfound in Malta make clear ref-erences to the Palaeolithic

    style of clothing. Figurines are clad intorelatively constricting fur overalls with ahood (Figure 51). Some authors considerthe lunula-pattern used on figurines cloth-ing a manifestation of moon cult.

    On some figurines only heads are elabo-rated in greater detail. These stick-like an-thropomorphic art objects can only tenta-tively be accepted as feminine (Figure 52).

    Another intriguing group of miniaturesculptural art objects consists of ivory bird

    Figure 51. A 4 cm tall dressed femalefigurine in mammoth ivory from Malta(Abramova 1962: XLIV).

    Figure 52. A stick-like female figurine in ivory(Abramova 1962: XLIV).

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    Figure 53. Ornithomorphic figures in mammoth ivory from Malta:A representation of a flying swan, B representation of a standing swan,C a partridge (Abramova 1962: LIILIII).

    figures, depicting mostly flying swans. The heads and necks of thesefigures are extremely elaborately modelled. Compared to the restof the body, the birds wings are relatively small. The rounded endof the body has a drilled hole, which allowed to use the figurine as apendant. The edges of the opening are indented, depicting a birdsstretched-out feet during the flight (Figure 53 A). So far, no analo-gous bird representations have been discovered anywhere else inthe world except Buret. The Malta site revealed 13 such bird fig-ures, the largest nearly 15 cm and the smallest 4.5 cm tall. One ofthe flying swan figures was found in a child burial as a grave good.

    One swanlike figure carved in ivory depicts a standing bird. Thefigures leg is pierced, which enabled to use it as a pendant (Figure53 B). Two other birds have not been depicted flying one is a swim-ming ornithomorph of indistinguishable prototype, and another, acarefully elaborated expressive work of art, depicts a partridge (Fig-ure 53 C).

    Engraved animal representations have been discovered on two ivoryplates. One (8.2 x 3.6 cm), with some notches and depressions, dis-

    A

    B

    C

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    plays an engraved mammoth. The other, 14.1 x 8.5 cm large platewith a drill-hole in its centre features three snake figures, a motifquite rare in Palaeolithic art. Judging by the wide head of two snakes,their prototype appears to be the cobra. The other side of the plateis covered with spirals of depressions, the largest of which proceedsfrom the central pierced hole. The largest spiral is surrounded bysmaller double spirals of depressions (Figure 54).

    Numerous rods, hairpins, spindles and other objects of round andflat diameter ornamented with lunula patterns or patterns of de-pressions have been found from the Malta site. Items of jewellery headbands, bracelets, breast-ornaments, necklaces, pendants, etc. are particularly numerous. Headbands (one was discovered on aburied childs skull) and fragments of headbands are made of ivorytiles and are generally ornamented with a pattern of depressions.Bracelets are of the same material; in one bracelet semipreciousmineral has been used. Ivory plates withpit-ornamentation and snake motifs, asdescribed above, may have been wornon clothes as breast-ornaments. Numer-ous are pendants and beads, mostlyround but some also triangular, made ofmammoth ivory, reindeer antler, pipebone of birds, vertebrae of fish andstone. A good example of such finds is acomplete necklace, found as a grave goodof the child burial. The necklace consistsof one central and six secondary pen-

    Figure 54. Engravings on an ivory plate (Abramova 1962: L 2, LI 2).

    Figure 55. Necklace from thechilds burial (Abramova 1962:LVI).

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    dants and 120 flat beads. The surface of the pendants is entirelycovered with pit-ornamentation (Figure 55).

    Buret is another famous site of Palaeolithic art in Siberia, locatedon the right bank of the Angara, near its tributary Belaia. During19361940 A. P. Okladnikov studied this prehistoric settlement. Findsdiscovered from Buret are analogous to those found in Malta al-though despite the fact that both settlements existed almost at thesame time. Buret is considerably poorer in finds of prehistoric art.Its cultural stratum has been estimated 14.8 millennia old, whichcontradicts to the 22 millennia dating based on stratigraphy andfinds (PSSSR 1984: 314315).

    The most exemplary art finds discovered from Buret are five fe-male figurines, four of mammoth ivory and one of serpentine, analo-gous to those found from Malta. One 12.2 x 1.9 cm stick-like ivoryfigurine is very well preserved and has a slender body, leaning for-ward from the waist, and relatively detailed facial features. Thefigures mouth, nose and slightly slanted eyes are clearly distin-guishable. The rest of the body is covered with lunula pattern (Fig-

    ure 56). Primitive facial features canalso be seen on another female figu-rine.

    An analogue to swan figures foundin Malta and a waterfowl head carvedof reindeer antler were also discov-ered from Buret. The latter mayhave served as an element of a largerwooden sculpture. Jewellery is rep-resented by a nephrite disc and ser-pentine spindles.

    There are other, though less knownsites of Palaeolithic art in Siberia.The very first Palaeolithic art objectsof Siberia were discovered in 1871from Irkutski Gospital, amongthem 5 small ivory cylinders deco-rated with perimetric line pattern(Figure 57 A). Ornate discs of mam-

    Figure 56. A female figurine withlunula ornamentation from Buret(Abramova 1962: LVII).

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    moth ivory, a spherical object andvarious pendants were also foundthere. Unfortunately, all these ob-jects were destroyed during the 1879fire in the Museum of