Locations of Earth Children Sites
Sungir is an enormous early Upper Paleolithic living site located on the outskirts of the city of Vladimir, about 150 km east of Moscow in the Russian Republic.
Note that the site according to Jean Auel's book, The Mammoth Hunters, is many kilometres South of the real site. According to the map in her book, the actual Sungir site was under hundreds or thousands of metres of snow and ice. You can see my estimate of where she put the Sungir (Sungaea) site at
Go to the map of The Ukraine
When reading the following notes about the burials at Sungir, it should be realised also that most researchers estimate that each ivory bead took an hour to make.
The site of Sungir (Bader 1978; USSR Academy of Sciences 1984), discovered during clay extraction operations in 1956, was excavated by Otto Bader from 1956 to 1977. Excavations were re-opened by Bader's assistant Ludmilla Mikhailova and Bader's son Nicolai in 1986, and continue today. Sungir is an enormous early Upper Paleolithic living site located on the outskirts of the city of Vladimir, about 150 km east of Moscow in the Russian Republic.
The supposed small boy was covered with strands of beads--4,903 of them--that were roughly 2/3 the size of the man's beads although of exactly the same form. He also had a beaded cap with some fox teeth. Unlike the man however, he had around his waist--apparently the remains of a decorated belt--more than 250 canine teeth of the polar fox. On his chest was a carved ivory pendant (Figure 16) in the form of an animal. At his throat was an ivory pin, apparently the closure of a cloak of some sort. Under his left shoulder was a large ivory sculpture of a mammoth.
At his left side lay a medial segment of a highly polished, very robust human femur, the medullary cavity of which was packed full of red ocher. At his right side, and continuing partially alongside the girl was a massive ivory lance, made from a straightened woolly mammoth tusk. It is 2 meters, 40 cm in length, and weighs more than 20 kg. (Given the weight of these objects, I doubt very much if they were functional lances). Near it is a carved ivory disk (Figure 17d) with a central perforation, which sits upright in the soil. As we shall see in the case of the supposed girl's burial, this had apparently been mounted over the tip of a no longer preserved (wooden?) "lance," up to a point a few centimeters from the tip.
About 28,000 years ago, the residents of the Russian site of Sungir produced thousands of personal ornaments and a number of ivory carvings in geometric and animal forms. Sungir is one of the oldest known cases in which ornaments are actually found on human skeletons. While inhabiting Sungir, at least nine of the site's occupants perished. According to Russian physical anthropologists the best preserved of these consisted of a 60 year-old man, a 7 to 9 year-old girl, a 13 year-old boy, an unsexed (male?), headless adult and an adult female skull. From my reading of the evidence, the adult burial is clearly an older male. The sex of the adolescents remains ambiguous.
In total, the three most intact burials were lavishly decorated with more than 13,000 painstakingly prepared ivory beads arranged in dozens of strands, perhaps basted to their clothing. Although it is almost certain that the three individuals buried intact at Sungir were members of the same social group, there are remarkable differences among them in details of body decoration and grave offerings. For example, the man's forearms and biceps were each decorated with a series of polished mammoth-ivory bracelets (25 in all), some showing traces of black paint. Around his neck, he wore a small, flat schist pendant painted red, but with a small black dot on one side.
The technology of the dominant form of bead production at Sungir was clearly a variation on the Aurignacian assembly-line approach to ivory bead manufacture discussed earlier. However, at Sungir the blanks were scored across the width of each face before the hole was drilled. This caused the beads to fall into a visually impressive interlocking pattern when strung. In other words, the desired esthetic effect was deeply embedded in even the earliest stages of production.
Experiments reveal that each of the ivory beads at Sungir took more than an hour to fabricate. Hence, the man's beadwork took more than 3,000 hours, while that of each child took more than 5,000. Considering additional objects placed on and alongside the corpses, it is clear that each of the childrens' burials had substantially more labor invested in it than that of the man. Based on the differences in grave offerings and labor investment revealed among these burials, we might be justified in inferring that the social system represented at Sungir was an internally differentiated one in which social position was inherited rather than achieved; suggesting that complex social systems arose prior to and independent from economic systems based on agricultural production.
BADER (O.). - Sungir Upper Paleolithic site. Moscow, NAUKA, 1978.
- The boys of Sungir. The Illustrated London News. March 7, 1970, p.24-26.
The glacial period is the time of Homo sapiens origin. Now world science is acquainted with only a few dozen of the Upper Palaeolithic Period archaeological sites. Sungir, discovered by the famous Russian archaeologist O.N. Bader in 1956, is one of the most well known Upper Palaeolithic settlements in Eastern Europe. This site, situated to the north-east of Moscow near the town of Vladimir, is one of the northernmost late glacial settlements of Eastern Europe.
Sungir is one of the earliest human settlements at high latitude; radiocarbon data determined this site age to be approximately 30,000 BP. Some patterns of ground geomorphology and the cultural layers content give us information about a cold arid climate and steppe forest- steppe landscape. Judging by mammoth, deer, and horse bone finds, Sungir humans were hunters. They also hunted reindeer and polar fox.
This settlement has gained world popularity due to the opening of unique individual burials. In the graves are splendidly preserved assemblages of people, hunting weapons, including a spear from a straightened tusk of a mammoth (2.4m), animal figures and thousands of beads from mammoth tusks which decorated cloth. The bead position gives some clue about the garment's cut. These ancient people may have had some knowledge of counting and the lunar calendar.
The Institute of Archaeology, Russian Academy of Sciences conducted more than thirty years of field studies. The settlement has been excavated to a total area of 4500 square metres. The Sungir findings have become famous in different publications as one of the earliest examples of the custom of preparing rich, time consuming burials.
Human skeletal remains from Sungir are of unique importance. Without these materials it is difficult to understand the world of Palaeolithic humans in Europe. Complex palaeoanthropological and archaeological investigations can highlight some patterns of lifestyle as well as the type of physical activity, occupation, diet and health.
At the moment five skeletons are kept in the Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology, Moscow. Some aspects of anthropological investigations have already been made but a complete description of every individual has been absent until now.
This site dates to 28,000 years ago and is located in Russia. In addition to occupation evidence, the site contains several burials dug into the living surface of the site. All of the bodies were laid on their backs with their hands crossed over their pelvises.
One pit contained the skeleton of a 60-year-old man. He was buried with 2,936 ivory beads in strands all over his body, including what appears to be a bead cap on his head. The "cap" also contained 6 fox teeth. A series of bone bracelets was found on his arms. The bracelets were painted both red and black. Around his neck, he wore a small stone smeared with red ocher. (Ocher is a naturally occurring pigment that is often found in burials.)
Two other burials were found placed head to head in one trench. Researchers estimate these children were 13 and 8 years old. The 13-year-old was buried with 4,900 ivory beads, including a bead cap with fox teeth. This individual, which is often thought to be a boy, also wore a belt with 250 fox canine teeth. On the chest was an ivory pendant carved in the shape of a mammoth, and on its left shoulder was a sculpture of a mammoth. Next to the skeleton was a full-sized lance made from a mammoth tusk.
The 8-year-old, which is thought by many to be a girl, was buried with over 5,200 beads and a bead cap without any fox teeth. This burial also lacked any pendant or necklace. It does, however, have several miniature lances and a pierced object made from antler and decorated with drilled holes. This grave also contained four ivory disks that have a latticework pattern carved into them and a hole drilled into their centers.
Straightening of mammoth tusks:
In my experience, there is no archaeological evidence before Sungir (dating to ca. 28-25,000 BP or earlier) for the preparation of whole tusks by softening (heating, boiling), which would have allowed the ivory to have been more easily worked. Even at Sungir however, the operational chain for bead production (White 1993) seems not to have employed thoroughly softened ivory. Simple soaking of tusks in water has only superficial effects. However, once the tusk is reduced to much thinner fragments, such soaking can penetrate the entire thickness, making drilling, scraping and gouging much easier. This soaking also works well on subfossil tusk fragments. Comparison of our experimental sample with actual Aurignacian production debris indicates clearly the use of water in the final stages of bead production.