Scientists will test a hypothesis about ancient farmers

TSU soil scientists have discovered signs of ancient agriculture near Tomsk. The finds - a primitive plow layer filled with coal - were made near the Shaitan archaeological microdistrict in the south of the Tomsk Region. Radiocarbon analysis showed that farming was attempted over 3,000 years ago, as early as the 6th–7th centuries A.D. Soil scientists intend to test this hypothesis with TSU archaeologists.

- An unusual find was made by chance. We arrived at the Shaitan natural boundary at the invitation of our fellow archaeologists. Several years ago, excavations of burial grounds from the Middle Ages were carried out in this area, and burials with artifacts were found, - says Sergey Loiko, a researcher at the laboratory Bio-Geo-Clim. - It should be noted that there is little data in the literature on agriculture among the population of Tomsk Priobye before the arrival of Russians. These are mainly finds of labor tools in burial grounds. Now, traces of farming were found directly in the soils, in the form of a surface humus layer with traces of plowing and a large amount of charcoal - this is very similar to the ancient arable land that emerged as a result of the use of slash-and-burn farming technology.

This technology consists of burning grass and cutting down trees and shrubs in the forest zone, freeing up the area for bedding cultivated plants. Ash from burned wood served as a good fertilizer. The farmers cultivated the soil with primitive tilling tools (plows and scratch plows), during which the coals were plowed under. They sowed grain crops (millet, oats, and barley) and received a high yield of up to 20 grains per 1 sown, but not for long - after a few years, after depleting the soil, they moved to a new place. Plowed coals are the memory of the fact that this soil has passed through a slash-and-burn agriculture system. Their radiocarbon dating helps us to determine the approximate time of plowing.

- The Shaitan natural boundary is a large complex of diverse archeological monuments — settlements, fortified settlements, and burial mounds,- explains Evgeny Barsukov of the Faculty of Historical and Political Sciences. - Monuments are dated in the 10th–17th century. Findings that were made there indicate that the residents of these settlements succeeded in processing the iron ore that was mined in the same area. However, there are no tools among the artifacts that would indicate agriculture. The hypothesis of our colleagues is still a hypothesis, but we have long been wanting to work with soil scientists. This summer we will have such an opportunity, and it is possible that we will receive new interesting data.

As the researchers note, because the coals are older than the natural boundary, most likely they belong to some other epoch. Some earlier cultures could have formed them.

Scientists will be able to find out these details soon. Soil scientists and archaeologists plan to conduct a study in the summer of 2019 of soil horizons in two places - in the area of the Shaitanka River, which gave its name to the complex of monuments, and not far from the village of Samus. The joint expedition will help to confirm or deny the hypothesis about the ancient farmers.