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Far East Kingdoms

Early Cultures


Yangelka Culture (Mesolithic) (Central Asia)
c.9500 - 6000? 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.

On the Eastern European fringe of these advances there appeared a number of more or less contemporaneous Epi-Palaeolithic and early Mesolithic cultures. This mainly took place in the steppe zone across the northern Black Sea region. Each was somewhat limited in the territory it encompassed (perhaps the first time such varied localisation had appeared), but each used similar chipped-stone forms of industry, and each emerged by transforming local Epigravettian complexes.

The Dryas III-Preboreal period in the north-western Black Sea region (the Pontic steppe) was characterised by aridisation - a general drying out and a resultant decrease in plant life. Several early cultures appeared here, such as the Shan Koba, but any overview of Epi-Palaeolithic or Mesolithic assemblages from the eastern Pontic steppe should start in the southern Urals. The particular culture mentioned here emerged on the eastern side of that mountain range, technically locating it in Central Asia. Today this territory lies within southern Russia.

The aforementioned sudden ecological changes towards the end of the Pleistocene led to the penetration of the southern Urals by groups from the southern Caspian coastal region. This was territory which would much later form part of proto-Indo-European lands, but the immediate result was the emergence of the Yangelka (or Yangelsk, Yangielsk, or even Yangelskaya).

This was a unique culture in its own right, with stone tools which were characterised by obliquely blunted points, including some with concave bases. Perhaps not so surprisingly, it emerged 'just' a millennium after the relatively local Shigir Idol people had erected their famous totem pole.

The culture's direct neighbour to the west, the Romanovsk-Ilmursin culture, practiced the same pressure flaking technique, suggesting a similar origin for its people. The Kama and Butovo cultures exhibited very similar traits. The Yangelka was characterised by its standardised microliths and a widespread use of pressure flaking.

The introduction of this technique formed one of the main markers for the crossover between the Palaeolithic and Mesolithic. It also strongly influenced contemporary early Neolithic flint-knapping traditions in the Central Asian Turanian lowland area (later home to the kingdom of Turan).

This culture's estimated beginnings are somewhat controversial in terms of dates. This crossover between the Central Asian late Palaeolithic of the Pleistocene and the subsequent Holocene is based on a not-fully-convincing typological correlation for a stone (lithic) assemblage from the 'Shikaevka II' site in the South Caspian/Trialetian early Mesolithic. The culture's final phases were subsumed under the local early Neolithic, although similar lithic traditions continued into the fifth millennium BC.

Mesolithic stone tools

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from The Magdalenian Settlement of Europe, Quaternary International Volumes 272-273 (2012), and from External Links: A problem of the bullet shaped cores: a global perspective, Karol Szymczak (University of Warsaw, 2002, and available via Academia.edu), and 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).)

c.9500 BC

The Yangelka culture emerges on the eastern side of the southern Ural mountain region. Its emergence is due to pressures caused by recent, and dramatic, changes in the climate which have led to local penetration by groups from the southern Caspian coastal region and, ultimately, from the Altai Mountains to the east.

Yangelka culural territory in Russia
Yangelka cultural territory on the eastern side of the southern Urals mountain range, not far from the modern border with Kazakhstan

The culture's direct neighbour to the west, on the other side of the Ural mountain range, is the Romanovsk-Ilmursin culture. These people practice the same pressure flaking technique, which suggests a similar origin for its people, and also those of the Butovo.

c.8000 - 7100 BC

The Preboreal period sees the climate become significantly warmer in the Baltics. Birch and pine forests start to spread, and elk, bear, beaver, and various species of water birds migrate into the region from the south. More southerly regions are also positively affected.

c.7100 BC

The Boreal period (until about 5800 BC) sees the climate continue to warm and become drier. Pine forests decrease, allowing deciduous trees to gain a firmer foothold and become prevalent. The animal population thrives, with red deer, roe deer, and hare increasing considerably.

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)

c.6000 BC

The precise point of decline for the Yangelka has not yet been pinpointed, but its disappearance - possibly around this time - coincides with the rise of the Neolithic Kel'teminar culture to the south, and then by the appearance of the Samara on the other side of the Urals.

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