Eerie 'Bonehenge circle' created from mammoth remains by ancient humans leave experts baffled
A MYSTERIOUS ring of mammoth bones built by our ancient ancestors has left scientists puzzled.
Nicknamed 'Bonehenge', the eerie structure has been dated to around 20,000 years ago – during the last Ice Age.
The ring is located on the Russian Plain, and was likely built by Palaeolithic hunter-gatherers.
And it was created at a time where temperatures in the winter regularly reached as low as -20C / -4F.
There are more than 70 strange bone structures in the area, but this paricular site – named Kostenki 11 – is believed to be the oldest.
"These finds shed new light on the purpose of these mysterious sites," said Dr Alexander Pryor, of the University of Exeter, who led the study.
"Archaeology is showing us more about how our ancestors survived in this desperately cold and hostile environment at the climax of the last ice age.
"Most other places at similar latitudes in Europe had been abandoned by this time, but these groups had managed to adapt to find food, shelter and water."
Archaeological dating puts the bone circle at around 20,000 years old.
This would've been when the last Ice Age was reaching its coldest point.
Most of the bones are from mammoths, including 51 lower jaws and 64 individual mammoth skulls.
They were used to construct walls for a structure measuring 30 feet by 30 feet.
And some of the bones were also scattered across the circle's interior.
Other animal bones found at the site included reindeer, horse, bear, wolf, red fox and arctic fox – but these were small in number compared to mammoth remains.
Archaeologists also uncovered the remains of charred wood and soft plant remains within the structure.
This suggests that people were burning wood as well as bones for fuels.
And communities who lived in the area had learned where to forage for edible plants in the frosty climate.
The plants may have been used for poisons, medicines, string or fabric.
More than 50 small charred seeds were also found, which are the remains of plants growing locally or potentially remains from cooking and eating.
Archaeologists don't know exactly who created the bone structure, or why.
"Kostenki 11 represents a rare example of Palaeolithic hunter-gatherers living on in this harsh environment," said Dr Pryor.
"What might have brought ancient hunter gatherers to this site?
"One possibility is that the mammoths and humans could have come to the area on masse because it had a natural spring that would have provided unfrozen liquid water throughout the winter – rare in this period of extreme cold."
The last Ice Age swept northern Europe between 75,000 and 18,000 years ago.
But it was at its most severe around 23,000 to 18,000 years ago.
Summers were short and cool and winters were long and cold, according to climate reconstructions.
Most communities are believed to have left the region, due to a lack of prey and plant resources.
This likely led to the abandonment of the bone circles too.
Woolly mammoth – the key facts
Here's what you need to know…
- The woolly mammoth is an ancient creature that is now extinct
- The species first appeared 400,000 years ago in East Asia when it "diverged" from the steppe mammoth
- Its closest living relative today is the Asian elephant
- Woolly mammoths are one of the best-studied prehistoric animal, due to the discovery of frozen carcasses in Siberia and Alaska
- We also have evidence of them in the form of skeletons, teeth, droppings and cave paintings
- A woolly mammoth was similarly sized to a modern African elephant
- Males were typically around 11ft tall, and weighted up to 6 metric tons
- Females were smaller at 9.5ft tall and 4 metric tons
- A newborn calf weighed around 90 kilos, or 200 lb
- Woolly mammoths were well-adapted to the frosty temperatures of the last Ice Age, thanks to their fur coats
- They largely disappeared from the mailand around 10,000 years ago, thanks to a shrinking habitat and hunting by humans
- Isolated populations survived on Arctic islands until as recently as 4,000 years ago
Archaeologists have previously suggested that the bone structures were used as dwellings.
It's previously been thought that they may have been occupied for many months at a time.
But this stone circle may prove that this wasn't the case.
Experts say the intensity of activity at the site "appears less than would be expected" from a long-term base camp.
Other discoveries at the site include more than 300 tiny stone and flint chips, and debris from tool-making activities.
This research was published in the journal Antiquity.
In other news, giant "mammoth trap" pits dug by ancient humans were recently discovered.
Scientists hope to resurrect woolly mammoths using frozen ancient remains found in Siberia.
And a five-foot mammoth tusk was recently dug up alongside an ancient camel and a "giant wolf" in Mexico.
What do you make of these mystery circles? Let us know in the comments!
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