1.1 Introduction

Until recently, it has been widely accepted that the adoption of agro-pastoral farming in the boreal zone of north-eastern Europe occurred at a very slow pace, its signals becoming perceptible between 1300 and 600 BC (Zvelebil 1996). Plough-type agriculture became established in central and northern Russia only in the first millennium BC, together with the fortified settlements ('hill-forts') of the Iron Age. The Neolithic in the boreal East European Plain is usually identified with hunter-gathering communities manifesting a sedentary way of life, large-scale use of ceramic ware, polished stone and bone tools (Oshibkina 1998). This view has been contested by archaeologists in the Baltic countries (Rimantiene 1996), who recognised agricultural indices in the deposits of local Neolithic sites.

To address this problem we started a multidisciplinary project aimed at developing an archaeological and palaeoenvironmental database with the evidence of early agriculture. We have chosen several archaeological and environmental sites in north-western Russia which were deemed as particularly informative in that sense. The present article focuses on one of the key areas, the valley of the Serteya River, in the upper part of the Western Dvina River, north-western Russia (Fig. 1).

Map of region showing location of Western Dvina River
Figure 1: General location plan

In 1972 Alexandr Miklyayev, an archaeologist with the Hermitage Museum at St Petersburg, discovered a submerged dwelling site of Neolithic age in that valley (Miklyayev 1992; Dolukhanov and Miklyayev 1986). Since that time and until his tragic death in 1993, Miklyayev and his associates systematically investigated that area, where a large number of new sites were brought to light. Presently, these sites are being investigated by several multidisciplinary teams under the general guidance of A.N. Mazurkevich from the State Hermitage Museum. In 2001-2003 a group of scientists from the INTAS-sponsored project had an opportunity to conduct joint investigations in that area.


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