On Our Mind in March 2015

Here at The Altai Project, we’ve focused our outreach mainly on wildlife conservation, issues advocacy, renewable energy technology, and working with indigenous communities. Yet, one subject we have not talked about is the wealth of ancient heritage found in Altai.

You may not know that some of the stories you’ve read in the news have direct links back to Altai!

DNA research published in 2012 shows that Native Americans share genetic markers linking them directly back to ancient peoples who lived in the greater Altai region 20,000-25,000 years ago. After leaving Altai, it took another 5,000 – 10,000 years for these intrepid explorers to reach Alaska and begin dispersing across the continent. The research is ongoing and scientists hope to answer questions about why people crossed the Bering Sea land bridge – was it overcrowding? climate? more hospitable landscapes?

In 1961, Siberian archaeologist Aleksei Okladnikov discovered Ulalinsky Camp within the city limits of Altai Republic’s capital Gorno-Altaisk. This camp was inhabited during the Lower Paleolithic, and while exact dating is uncertain, it is believed to be between 300,000 and 800,000 years old! Researchers discovered more than 600 stone tools at the site, and there are new efforts underway in 2015 to improve our understanding of the camp and its hominin inhabitants with further excavations and a new visitor center.Denisova Caves location

The Denisova Caves have been the perfect shelter for humans and their relatives for at least 200,000 years, situated high up mountain slopes with views of valleys inhabited by migratory herbivores – their main prey. In the last decade a tooth, a finger bone, and other bones were discovered in the cave. As a result, a new hominin relative was discovered, albeit slightly more closely related to the Neanderthals – an incredible find that requires much more study. Another nearby cave revealed some of the earliest evidence of dog domestication, when a 33,000 year old dog’s skull was discovered showing clear morphological signs of being domestic. Here is a fascinating video of the Denisova Caves.

While all of this is ancient but important history, Altai’s modern indigenous inhabitants continue to demand that archaeological research be closely monitored and limited. Archaeology has been very restricted in the last 20-30 years in order to protect the sacred nature of these places and respect Altaians’ belief in the critical integrity and sanctity of the landscape and their ancestors’ resting sites.