Mammoth Bone Accumulation

Molodova I
48.34, 26.5
Date min:
44,000 Bp
Date max:
44,000 Bp
Time periods:
Tarantian, Pleistocene
Maquette tactile de l'habitat de Molodova I en Ukraine, Musée de l'Homme

Maquette tactile de l'habitat de Molodova I en Ukraine, Musée de l'Homme

A circular accumulation of mammoth bones found in Molodova I site in Ukraine, is potentially the oldest Mammoth Hut structure found. The creation of this structure has been attributed to Neanderthals and has provided significant insight into the possible relationship between mammoths and early humans as well as information on Neanderthal subsistence strategies [1].


Moldova I is a Middle and Upper Paleolithic archaeological site located in Ukraine, on the southern bank of the Dniester River [2]. The site has 5 layers, with Layer 4, which dates to 44,000 BP [3], being the richest in lithic and bone remains. The Layer 4 bone assemblage is dominated by mammoth bones, the majority of which are well-preserved, that has an estimated population of at least fifteen individuals of all age classes both males and females. Five areas of activities were discovered: a pit with bones, an area with bones bearing on-food parallel striations and ochre, two areas with accumulations of lithic flakes and bones, and the most interesting, a circular accumulation of bones, thought to be a dwelling structure constructed by Neanderthals [4][1].

Other discovered mammoth bone dwelling structures have been associated to the Upper Paleolithic and Homo sapiens in the middle Dniepr basin, inculding the Desna valley and the Don basin [5][6][7][1]

The accumulation of mammoth bones has been interpreted in various ways. Chernysh [8][9][10] described it as a Mousterian dwelling structure. Binford [11] disputed this view and instead interpreted it as a hunting blind.  Klein initially interpreted it as a man-made structure, but eventually considered it as a natural accumulation [12]. Stringer and Gamble [13] saw it as a circular symbolic ring tied to Neanderthal beliefs. Kolen [14] proposed that humans periodically settled and pushed away garbage thereby creating a ring of bones used as a base structure which he called the “centrifugal living structure”. Lastly, Hoffecker [15] suggested the hypothesis of a wind break for long term occupation [1].

The circular bone structure’s ring-shaped basement measures 5 by 8 meters on the inside and 7 by 10 meters on the outside. The structure is made up of 116 mammoth large bones: twelve skulls, five mandibles, fourteen tusks, 34 girdle bones, and 51 long bones [9][1].

According to a 2012 study [1], taphonomic changes caused by weathering, water percolation, and plant roots indicate the location of the bones in holes like the pit and the basement of the circular accumulation. Moreover, there is limited evidence of predator teeth marks on the bones demonstrating that these were not accumulated by predators. Lastly, the anatomical preservation, the age and sex features and the taphonomic data indicate that these bones were acquired through various methods of acquisition including hunting, scavenging, and collecting.

The mammoth meat has been consumed according to anthropogenic marks. Additionally, mammoth bones were purposefully chosen (long and flat bones, tusks, connected vertebrae) and put in a circular pattern. This mammoth bone structure could be interpreted as the basement of a wooden cover or as a wooden screen. The presence of 15 hearths, lithic artefacts, and waste of mammal butchery and cooking is characteristic of a domestic area, which was most likely the center of a periodically settled residential camp [1]

Based on anthropogenic marks, the mammoth meat has been eaten. Furthermore, mammoth bones have been deliberately selected (long and flat bones, tusks, connected vertebrae) and circularly arranged. This mammoth bone structure could be described as the basement of a wooden cover or as a wind screen. The inner presence of fifteen hearths, lithic artefacts, and waste of mammal butchery and cooking is characteristic of a domestic area, which was probably the centre of a residential camp recurrently settled. This suggest that Neanderthals were the oldest known humans to construct a dwelling structure out of mammoth bones [1].


Cited References

  1. 1.

  2. 2.

  3. 3.

  4. 4.

  5. 5.

  6. 6.

    Mezinskaja stojanka

    Izdatel’stvo Naukova Dumka

  7. 7.

    Mezhirichskie zhilischa iz kostei mamonta

    Izdatel’stvo Naukova Dumka

  8. 8.

  9. 9.

  10. 10.

  11. 11.

  12. 12.

  13. 13.

  14. 14.

  15. 15.

This page was last edited on December 14, 2022 at 17:22:33 UTC