Scenes of Zaraysk, Russia During The Eastern Gravettian Conference, September 1997

by Bruce Bradley

Poster designed for the Zaraysk Conference by a local artist.

The following is the text of a report I wrote to fulfill the requirements of a grant I received from Internation Research Exchanges.

I attended the "Eastern Gravettian" Tutorial (conference) sponsored by the Institute of Archaeology, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, the Ministry of Culture, Moscow Oblast, and the Administration of the Zaraysk Region, in September, 1997. As I learned at the conference, its organization had taken 17 years and it was the first that fully integrated Eastern, Central, and Western European paleolithic archaeologists. A total of about 50 scholars from 13 countries attended the conference with most either making an official presentation or participating fully in the discussions. Participants came from Belgium, Czech Republic, France, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Moldova, Poland, Romania, Russia, Spain, Ukraine, and USA. I was one of two Americans. I submitted a paper that dealt with a particular aspect of the artifactual materials found in sites of Eastern and Central Europe designated as representing the Kostenki-Avdeevo Upper Paleolithic archaeological culture (24,000-14,000 years ago). Coincidently, the subject of my presentation corresponded with that of Professor Gvozdover, senior paleolithic

Prof. Gvozdover explaining her ideas about Upper Paleolithic artifacts to the conference participants.
Prof. Grigoriev of the Institute of Material Culture History in St. Petersburg explaining the details of an Upper Paleolithic excavation.
archaeologist at the Museum of Anthropology and Archaeology in Moscow. Rather than make separate and somewhat redundant presentations, we got together and combined our efforts into a single presentation. This served two important functions: 1) it was the only joint East-West collaboration presented at the conference,; and 2) it freed up some time (there is always a tendency to take more time than allotted) needed for discussion. Of particular interest was that we had come to the same basic conclusions from very different methodologies and backgrounds. Our presentation was well received and stimulated lively discussions. Later, we visited Prof. Gvozdover's lab in Moscow and had the opportunity to examine the artifacts we were discussing. Another aspect of the conference that was particularly gratifying was the broad support that it received from the academic community as well as the governments of Moscow and Zaraysk. In addition, Zaraysk organized an evening in which the conference participants made presentations to the townspeople and had the chance to speak with them one-to-one. Many of the non-Russian conference participants spoke Russian well enough to communicate, and for those who couldn't, our Russian colleagues acted as interpreters. We also had the opportunity to examine the recently opened Zaraysk paleolithic site, under the direction of Dr. Hizri Amirkhanov of the Institute of Archaeology, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, in Zaraysk (I participated in this excavation in 1996). We saw the remains of two separate Stone Age occupations dating to about 22,000 and 16,000 years ago. Present were numerous stone artifacts, fire hearths, a small pit structure (probably a dwelling), and numerous mammoth tusks and bones. The early people were living in a peri-glacial tundra environment and were evidently taking advantage of the rich flint and animal resources of the area. Zaraysk is the furthest north site known of the Kostenki-Avdeevo (previously subsumed in the Eastern Gravettian) archaeological culture. We also had the opportunity to examine the artifacts that have come from the excavation. This conference achieved its primary goal which was to promote open discussions between Eastern, Central, and Western European (and American) archaeologists, who have because of political situations, mostly worked separately. There were many ideas, different approaches, and widely divergent interpretations presented, but I believe it was truly the beginning of real dialog that will continue to grow. Although there were one or two dissenters, it was the general opinion that the cultural developments on the European Continent during the Upper Paleolithic were complex and those in the East were just as influential as those in the West. It was also generally agreed that the term (and concept underlying it) Eastern Gravettian is probably no longer valid and should probably be dropped in favor of more regional and local terminology. All cultural developments in Europe did not begin in France and move east! There seem to have been any number of independent cultural developments that influenced each other. The opportunity to travel back to Russia this year also allowed me to spend some time with a colleague, Dr. Evgenij Giria, in St. Petersburg after the conference. We have been collaborating on various research topics since 1992 and have published joint articles (in English and Russian) since that time. Our basic research effort was accomplished during this visit by the conclusion of a major article that will be submitted to a Western journal in English and will be published with the proceedings of the "Eastern Gravettian" conference in Russian (copy attached to this report). Writing joint articles about collaborative research is very satisfying, if quite difficult at the great distances involved. Without the support of IREX, in 1992 and again in 1997, it is unlikely that our effort would have been successful. I believe that this truly international conference was a milestone in the new relationships that are developing between European paleolithic archaeologists. I am equally convinced that it was very important that American archaeologists participated and have found ways to collaborate with our European colleagues. Together, we are writing a richer story about the earliest human societies that flourished on the European Continent before the Indo-European cultures expanded into the region. Much has been learned but much remains to be discovered.

Entry sign for rural school where coference participants stayed
Typical rural house near Ocyotr school
View of glacial terrain, fields and forests outside Zaraysk
Hizri Amirkhanov at Zaraysk site
Hizri interpreting site
Conference participants learning about Zaraysk site
View of Zaraysk Upper Paleolithic site excavation.
View of Zaraysk Upper Paleolithic site excavation.
View of Zaraysk Upper Paleolithic site excavation.
View of Zaraysk Upper Paleolithic site excavation.
Unexcavated firepit in Zaraysk Upper Paleolithic site excavation.
Large, deep hearth in Zaraysk Upper Paleolithic site excavation.

Along with the site, we got to see and handle a sample of the stone tools that have been recovered. There are some displays in the local historical museum (in an old church).

Arctic fox teeth strung into a necklace.

While in Zaraysk, the local administration put on a show of local performing talent for us and about 300 citizens of the oblast (like a county). Five of us were chosen to get up on stage and make a short speech about who we are, where we come from, and why we were there at the conference. We represented France, Poland, Belgium, Isreal, and the US. I gave the US presentation (since this was my third time in Zaraysk, I was already a bit of a celebrity). The following are photos of some of the performances.

Lead lady traditional singer.
Traditional singers.
Traditional singers.
Traditional singers.
Local classical music group.
Young girls in caberet act.
Local acordianest singing popular songs.
Traditional singers with local icon art.

More images of Zaraysk

Page added 12/14/97

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