Age of the Upper Paleolithic sites in Kapova and Ignatievskaya caves (Southern Ural): revision and interpretations

of the radiocarbon dates

Dublyansky Y.V., Shirokov V.N.


              page 516


There are two caves containing groups of wall paintings of the Upper Paleolithic age known in the Southern Ural: Kapova (Shulgan-Tash) and Ignatievskaya (Yamazy-Tash). In total, about 200 pictorial motifs have been recorded in the Kapova cave, among which there are life-like depictions of Pleistocene animals (mammoth and rhinoceros). Some 180 pictorial motifs have been found in the Ignatievskaya cave, which also show images of the Pleistocene fauna (mammoth and rhinoceros), although less realistic than those in the Kapova cave. The cultural layers have been discovered in the cave sediments at both sites. Archaeological excavations in the Kapova cave revealed multiple cultural layers which contained remains of the hearths, stone artefacts, fragments of ochre, decorations made of stone and tusk, a piece of burnd clay cup, bone tools and animal bones (some with traces of ochre paint). In the Ignatievskaya cave, the Paleolithic cultural layer contains numerous fragments of charcoal, stone artefacts, rare fragments of ochre, decorations made from teeth of arctic fox and bison and from mammoth tusk, as well as the bones of Pleistocene animals. In the past two decades, a series of radiocarbon dates has been reported by different researchers based on the charcoal and bones from the cultural layers in both caves. Seventeen dates have been reported for the Kapova cave, including 14 Upper Paleolithic, 2 Bronze Age and 1 modern dates. The materials from the cultural layer of the Ignatievskaya cave have yielded 6 radiocarbon dates; another 3 dates were obtained directly from the charcoal used for the black paintings in the cave. Our analysis of publications, in which the radiocarbon dates from the Upper Paleolithic cultural layers of the Kapova and Ignatievskaya caves are used, has revealed that the dating results are often reported inaccurately or incompletely, which leads to serious errors in interpretations. In particular, the incorrect use of non-calibrated radiocarbon dates as calendar ages, completely changes the paleoclimatic context of the cave occupation; for the Kapova cave, for instance, such misinterpretation shifts the dates of the cave visiting and painting from the late part of the Last Glacial Maximum and early deglaciation to the Bølling-Allerød interstadial. In this paper, we revisit the published radiocarbon ages for these two Southern Ural sites, provide practical recommendations and re-emphasize the importance for accurate and complete reporting of radiocarbon ages in publications.

Key words: radiocarbon dating, Upper Paleolithic, Kapova cave, Ignatievskaya cave, Ural.


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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Accepted: 29.05.2020

Article is published: 28.08.2020


Dublyansky Y.V. ,

Innsbruck University, Innrain, 52, Innsbruck, 6020, Austria



Shirokov V.N.

Institute of History and Archaeology of Ural Branch RAS, S. Kovalevskoy st., 16, Yekaterinburg, 620990, Russian Federation