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European Kingdoms

Early Cultures


Shan Koba Culture (Epi-Palaeolithic / Mesolithic) (Eastern Europe)
c.13,000 - 5700? BC

The Upper Palaeolithic and Upper Mesolithic Epigravettian culture was one which emerged in Southern Europe shortly before the Solutrean was succeeded across much of the north by the Magdalenian culture. To its west was the Azilian, with these all forming some of the last of Europe's major Palaeolithic cultures.

The Shan Koba (or Shankoba) culture appeared in the Epi-Palaeolithic (the late Palaeolithic) as it was transitioning into the early Mesolithic, around 13,000 BC. It was located in the Crimean part of the Black Sea steppe zone, one of the earliest specifically Eastern European cultures (alongside the Iron Gates). Today its territorial spread falls within Ukraine. Its people were hunter-gatherers, either deliberately hunting game or gathering local materials along the coast.

However, it is unclear whether the Shan Koba emerged out of the Epigravettian. Its zone of influence was some way to the east of Epigravettian borders, although the Epigravettian may have had a more far-reaching early influence around the Black Sea coast than is sometimes portrayed in modern literature on the subject.

The Shan Koba's start date was too early for formative influence to reach it from the people of the Swiderian culture, so instead it may have emerged out of the fading Magdalenian culture which, for around five thousand years, dominated much of hunter-gatherer Europe.

During the Late Glacial interstadials (circa 12,670-10,890 BC) the people of the Shan Koba hunted forest game, something which is indicative of a temperate climate. From the Younger Dryas cold snap (which ended around 9700 BC) to the Greenlandian (from around 6200 BC) it was the aforementioned Swiderian hunters who visited the then-treeless Crimean yailas from the direction of northern Ukraine, hinting at a weakening of Shan Koba regional dominance.

Shan Koba assemblages contain regular microlithic crescents, segments, or lunates, which have seen some experts claim a close degree of similarity with the Near East's Pre-Pottery Neolithic A industries. At a minimum, those similarities do point to possible direct contact with eastern Anatolia through the Caucasus.

The type site at Shan Koba cave covers a time span between 12,229 BC for 'Layer 6' and 5700 BC for 'Layer 1'. Other important sites include Fatma Koba cave ('Layer V/VI'), Buran Kaya cave ('Horizon 7'), Zamil Koba I, the Sosruko rock shelter (complexes M3 and M4, with early dates of 10,240-9500 BC and 12,030-11,160 BC), Skalistiy, and Vodopadniy rock shelters, as well as the upper layers of the Suren II cave.

In some Crimean sites such as 'Layer 7' of the Suren II cave, Shan Koba horizons are interstratified (intermixed) with Swiderian culture artefacts from the late Palaeolithic. Material of this type also appears in numerous unstratified localities, making it hard to provide firm dating.

Modern experts remain divided about how best to catalogue a number of local Epi-Palaeolithic and/or Mesolithic groups in the Eastern European steppe zone. Some have raised them to the status of individual archaeological cultures, with the Bilolissya, Tsarinka-Rogalik, and Grebeniki all being included in this group.

Other authors see all those groups as belonging either to the Shan Koba or the Kukrek culture. The issue is confused by many sites having stratified examples of two or more cultures across several millennia.

Homo Neanderthalis

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from The Magdalenian Settlement of Europe, Quaternary International Volumes 272-273 (2012), and from External Links: The Palaeolithic of the Western Steppe Zone, Karol Szymczak (Reference Module in Social Sciences, 2023, available via Science Direct), and Early Mesolithic (Indo-European.eu), and Radiocarbon Chronology of the Final Palaeolithic, Mesolithic and Neolithic of Crimea, A A Yanevich (Vita Antiqua 11, 2019, Archaeology, Museum & Monument Studies: educational and research aspects), and The Genetic History of Ice Age Europe (Nature 2016), and The Epigravettian chronology and the human population of eastern Central Europe during MIS2, György Lengyel (Lead Author, Quaternary Science Reviews Volume 271, 1 November 2021, available via Science Direct).)

c.13,000 BC

With its type site at the Shan Koba cave in Crimea, the Shan Koba culture seems to emerge out of the fading regional domination of the Magdalenian culture (although Epigravettian influence cannot be ruled out).

In time it evolves alongside an increasing number of other Epi-Palaeolithic and early Mesolithic cultures which occupy small pockets of territory in the Black Sea coastal area.

The Shan Koba culture cave type site in Crimea
The Shan Koba type site cave was discovered during explorations in 1927 by S A Trusova and S N Bibkov, while field research was carried out in 1927-1928 by G A Bonch-Osmolovsky, and in 1935-1936 by the returning S N Bibikov and S A Trusova

c.10,000 BC

Crimea quickly becomes a patchwork of co-existing cultures. Some emerge on plains Crimea, such as the Kukrek and Olexiivka, while others are focussed on mountain Crimea of the south, including the Shan Koba, the newly-emergent Tash-Air, and a latecomer in the Murzak-Koba. The Kizil-Koba (I) culture soon emerges in the foothills of eastern Crimea.

c.9700 BC

FeatureThe Younger Dryas has seen a temporary return to glacial conditions, although not uniformly around the world, or even in Northern Europe (and see feature link). The fading of its last stages around this time sees the gradual reintroduction of trees across the northern tundra and improvements to life for modern humans in Southern Europe.

Perhaps making the most of such improvements, the hunters of the Swiderian culture are frequent visitors to the equally treeless Crimea for the next millennium and-a-half. This suggests that the region has suffered from the cold snap and the Shan Koba people have weakened in their Crimean dominance.

North American large mammals
The Younger Dryas cold spell hit North America hard, just when things were starting to warm up at the end of the ice age - not only did many of the large mammals die out but so did the Clovis culture (click or tap on image to view full sized)

c.9000 BC

The first typically Mesolithic flint-knapping tradition - the Bilolissya - appears in the lower Danube region at the Dryas III-Preboreal boundary. Its people have migrated from Dobrudja (in Bulgaria) as they follow aurochs, their main hunting species.

This tradition, or culture, is seen by some experts as being part of the Shan Koba rather than a culture in its own right. The Crimean Kizil-Koba (I), however, is not.

c.8000 BC

The Tsarinka-Rogalik tradition or culture emerges in the early Mesolithic period (potentially as part of the Shan Koba), although no direct dates are currently available. The Dryas III-Preboreal period in this region above the Black Sea is characterised by aridisation - a general drying out and a resultant decrease in plant life.

Map of Mesolithic Europe 8000 BC
Although culturally and technologically continuous with Palaeolithic cultures, Mesolithic cultures quickly developed diverse local adaptations for special environments, as this map shows (click or tap on map to view full sized)

Human groups in the centre of this region, part of the Anetivka late Palaeolithic flint-knapping technology, have been broken up by the changes, forced to disperse to more habitable locations which may also include Shan Koba territory in Crimea.

The people of the Tsarinka move in to make the most of the extra hunting space, while the Anetivka people soon give birth to the more widespread Kukrek tradition.

c.5700 BC

The Shan Koba type site exhibits its last influences around now, suggesting that it has most definitively now been succeeded by the Kukrek culture.

In nearby Eastern Europe the relatively unknown Bilolissya has already long since faded, while the Tsarinka-Rogalik may only just have turned into the widely-dominant Grebeniki culture.

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