Is this the oldest map in the world?
In 1965, in central Ukraine not far from the city of Kaniv
, beside the
, a farmer discovered a mammoth jawbone while expanding his cellar.
The next year, excavations began and in the years that followed, a remarkable Epigravettian (Upper Paleolithic) open-air mammoth hunting camp was
The excavations of the Mezhirich (aka Mezhyrich) site by Ukrainian and Russian teams through to the 80's and teams including US and UK members
starting in the 90's, revealed at least 4 huts constructed of the skulls and long bones of some of the estimated 149 mammoths whose remains were found
at the site. These are among the very oldest human dwellings known and the best preserved mammoth huts of the more than a dozen Dnepier (aka Dnepr)
and Desna valley archaeological sites, which include Mira
, Yudinovo and
It's believed that as many as 50 individuals would have occupied the camp at any given time. In addition to the huts, hearths, several large pits and
many artifacts were found during excavations through the 80's and involving scientists from the US and UK. Excerpted description from an
by K. Kris Hirst:
About 10 large pits, with diameters between 2-3 m (6.5-10 ft) and depths between .7-1.1 m (2.3-3.6 ft) were found surrounding the mammoth bone
structures at Mezhirich, filled with bone and ash, and are believed to have been used as either meat storage facilities, refuse pits, or both.
Internal and external hearths surround the dwellings, and these are filled with burnt mammoth bone.
Tool workshop areas were identified at the site. Stone tools are dominated by microliths, while bone and ivory tools include needles, awls,
perforators and polishers. Items of personal ornamentation include shell and amber beads, and ivory pins. Several examples of mobiliary or portable
art recovered from the site of Mezhirich include stylized anthropomorphic figurines and ivory engravings.
In addition to the bones from mammoths, bones from hare were numerous with lesser quantities of bones from woolly rhinoceros, horses, reindeer, bison,
brown bears, cave lions, wolverines, wolves and foxes. From the article excerpted above, details of the dating:
Reconstruction of mammoth hut from Mezhyrich at the Kiev Museum of Paleontology
Six AMS radiocarbon dates from Mezhirich returned calibrated dates between 14,850 and 14,315 BP.
In my opinion, the most fascinating items discovered at the site are the examples of Cro-Magnon
artistry — a "map" of the site engraved in mammoth tusk, a mammoth skull "drum" painted with red ocher, carved figurines and a collection of amber
and fossil shell (presumably transported a great distance) decorative items. Unfortunately, I have yet to come across images of the figurines, shells
or amber, but here is a drawing of the skull, showing a series of dots and lines which some have interpreted as a representation of flames and sparks
and a closeup of the map drawing from above:
Depiction of mammoth skull drum, K. Sklenar, Hunters of the Stone Age
The skull weighs nearly 100 lb and was found sitting just outside the entrance to one of the huts. Indentations on its surface are consistent with
those one would expect on a drum head and I believe that coupled with the sound produced by such tapping is what has led to its interpretation as a
The mammoth tusk map on display along with drawing pictured above
While some may argue that it isn't a map, in the purest sense of the word, it does depict not only the huts, but apparently their position relative to
the river and what might be a forest in the background. Finally, the only closeup image I could find, from Don's Maps (linked below):
If anyone comes across better images, I would really appreciate a link!
Additional sources & information:
Awesome selection of images from Mezhyrich at Don's Maps
History of Information: Perhaps the Oldest Surviving Architecture
Cultural Stratigraphy at Mezhirich, An Upper Palaeolithic Site In Ukraine With Multiple Occupations
If you enjoy this thread, you may also be interested in my ongoing series, Lesser Known Mysteries
edit on 2014-9-13 by theantediluvian because: (no reason given)